I make notes on every record I review. Sometimes in my head, sometimes on my phone. For “Battle Lessons” I’d got it in my mind to write something along the lines of “music, you sense, for some people is a clinical business thing (hello, Gene Simmonds!) but for Damon Johnson, creating is a need. Something that burns deep within.”
Then I looked at my review of his solo record “Memoirs Of An Uprising”, from back in 2019, and this was the conclusion: “Music, to Damon Johnson, you guess is something he needs. He has a need to create, and he deserves credit for not only going it alone instead of taking the easy route, but also for blurring the lines the way he has here.”
Ok, so either I write boring things that see me repeating myself, or I’m on to something? The point is, though, as he cements his future here with Damon Johnson and the Get Ready, he is doing it in a way that celebrates the music he clearly loves, together with a creative streak that seems to drive everything he does.
This is produced by Nick Raskulinecz, who has worked with everybody, but crucially Black Star Riders. The band that Johnson co-wrote a lot of songs for while he was in. But, whilst, much of “…..Lessons” will appeal to fans of BSR (I know because I am one) this is fresh and new.
It’s clear from the more metal guitar of the title track that this is Johnson trying things, and alongside his band, drummer Jarred Pope (Tom Keifer) and bassist Robbie Harrington (Steve Vai.) there seems to have been a new chemistry too.
“Can’t Clap Any Louder” has a kind of sneer to go with its outright catchy hook, it is one of the highlights, that’s for sure, as is “Talk Yourself Into Anything”, which has a real intent. It lurks, poised almost to strike, built around Pope’s thunderous drumming.
The impressive thing, really, is how many different paths this walks down, while at the same time remaining accessible. “Shadow Country” might be the best thing here, as it happens, and it probably wouldn’t fit in any of the stuff he’s done before. It’s breakdown, for example, is one of real intent.
If three piece bands always seem to sound balanced, then that’s the case here too. “Let The Healing Begin” features some incredible guitar, and Johnson’s voice is perfect for this sound too.
There’s a bit of an 80’s sound about the pulsing “Brace For Impact”, and the energy doesn’t dip throughout any of these songs, in truth.
On a record where nothing is too long and the rationale appeared to be “no gimmicks” then “Lightning Bolt (Everything Will Be Alright)” lives up to its name. Under three minutes, with the emphasis on the impact, it crashes home – and you can imagine this sounding brilliant live, too.
I’ve had the pleasure of watching Johnson a couple of times playing acoustically, and he’s brilliant at it. Playing a mixture of his own songs and some of his favourites, it is both fun and relaxed. In that spirit, this album needed a slow song. And it gets a clever and mature one in “Love Is All You Left Behind” – perhaps the darkest lyrics on offer too.
The reason it sticks out is that it is out of character with the rest of the album. Most of “Battle Lessons” exists in a groove, in a confident manner, in a stomp, if you like, as the ending “Casual Beast” does – and it works so well.
There’s a reason that Damon Johnson was always in demand, why he’s worked with Alice Cooper, Stevie Nicks and Thin Lizzy even before he started on his Black Star Riders journey. He’s brilliant. So is this.
The last line on the album is a rather plaintive “you gotta believe in me now”. I’d be amazed if anyone didn’t already.