This is Part I of a tribute to the work of blues great, Jonny Lang. Part II will be published next week. The tribute reviews Lang’s recorded works from 1995 up to the present. Special thanks to my pal Tim Bindner for putting this review together.
Smokin’ (1995/2002) – 11 songs, 44.6 minutes
This compilation was originally released in 1995 and then re-released in 2002. This is a very good freshman album for Jonny. The guitar playing is fluid and professional in a style reminiscent of many other players, notably B.B. King. There are few catchy tunes such as Changes, I Love You Best, and the quirky Malted Milk, showing Jonny’s attempt to tie in drinking and blues via drinking malted milk. The strongest cut from this album is a song titled, Nice and Warm. It has an old fashion blues feel and some very smooth guitar playing. Don’t forget he was 14 or 15 when this was released.
Lie To Me (1997) – 12 songs, 50.9 minutes
As Jonny’s voice and guitar skills improved the title track and open song hits you like a brick. His vocals are raw and raspy. His guitar is sharp and clean. The title track, Lie To Me, along with three other songs on this disc, really show Jonny’s skills as a guitar player and blues singer. A Quitter Never Wins begins with a very awesome opening riff. You can truly feel Jonny’s passion on the vocal track for this song and the addition of piano and guitar only serves to elevate that passion. When I Come For You is my second favorite song on this CD, mainly due to the final guitar solo. In it, Jonny exhibits a broad range of both voicing and phrasing. My top pick, however, is There’s Gotta Be A Change. This is a toe tappin’ song, with a true blues feel. Lyrics like “I ain’t got no money now, ain’t nothin’ I can do. So I’ll play the blues for you,” showcase Jonny’s continuing maturation in the lyric department.
Wander This World (1998) – 12 songs, 52.8 minutes
This album was nominated for the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. With each album, Jonny continues to grow as both a guitar player, and singer/songwriter. The opening track, Still Rainin’, set the tone for this CD. With a blend of searing lead vocals and soulful background singing, this song is a journey into the life of the blues. Jonny’s passion screams at you through the guitar solo on this cut. His playing is at once precocious and ferocious, a fevered attack. The second track displays his writing talent with lyrics like, “a second guessing, first impressions, there you go again. You’re brushing off in all directions, since I don’t know when.” My favorite track, not only on this disc, but for his entire career, is Breakin’ Me. Here, Jonny drops the electric and picks up the acoustic. The guitar playing as well as the lyric content is gut wrenching as Jonny sings, “‘Emotional’ is not a word I use to describe myself, but now you got me down upon knees. Oh baby please, just take me back.”
“Breakin’ Me sounds like it’s about a girl,” admits Lang. “However, [it’s about] the best thing you ever had–you took it for granted and let it go, and now you’re desperate to get it back because you let it go.”
Join me next week when I conclude this tribute to Lang’s work as blues guitarist and singer/songwriter.