ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, FEB. 25, 1999
Two years ago I was offered a free trip to Toronto to interview Aerosmith, who were tirelessly promoting their then-new CD Nine Lives. Since I’d never been to T.O., I put on my Media Slut From Hell cap and agreed to spend some of Sony Music’s vast wad of cash. Unfortunately, it was freezing cold, the Torontonians weren’t friendly, and the new Aerosmith album sucked the biggie.
Hell, Sony didn’t even foot the bill for my hotel room’s minibar!
Things didn’t start looking up until I took refuge from the bitter chill of Hogtown in a cozy little bar called the Silver Dollar, where an Aussie singer-songwriter-guitarist named Jeff Lang was heating up the place with some powerful acoustic-blues tunes and scintillating slide guitar. Touring in support of his new CD, Cedar Grove, he’ll be offering up more of the same when he plays the intimate confines of the Vancouver Press Club on Thursday (March 4).
A native of Geelong, near Melbourne, Lang grew up listening to his father’s blues records, later incorporating influences from such six-string specialists as Ry Cooder and Richard Thompson. On one of Cedar Grove’s most compelling tracks, the ominous “Too Easy to Kill”, Lang echoes Thompson’s penchant for dark subject matter with a gun-control plea inspired by a mass killing in Port Arthur, Australia. On April 29, 1996, 29-year-old loner Martin Bryant went on a rampage with an automatic rifle and killed 35 people in the worst peacetime massacre by a single gunman on record.
“There’s obviously many sides to these things,” says Lang of the firearms debate, “but it just does seem that you can’t argue the connection between having a gun and shooting people with it, and not having a gun and not shooting people with one.”
Lang normally writes all his own music, although on Cedar Grove he found room at the end to tack on a version of “Call Letter Blues”, a semi-obscure number by one of his major songwriting influences, Bob Dylan.
“Pretty much anyone who’s a singer-songwriter has to have Dylan in there as some kind of building block,” he states. “That song came to mind because it’s from a great period of Dylan’s stuff—the Blood on the Tracks sort of period.”
Although Lang is accompanied by a full band on Cedar Grove, on this tour he’ll be performing that CD’s tunes by himself. He doesn’t feel he needs bass and drums to get the essence of his music across. “I was playing them solo before I made the record anyhow,” he says. “The whole thing is contained in the guitar and the voice, and everything else just grows out of that.”