ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON OCT. 23, 2003
By Steve Newton
In the bio that came with Jonny Lang’s new CD, Long Time Coming, the singer-guitarist describes the album as “a journal of my life for the past two years”. Since one of the song titles is “Happiness and Misery”, you might assume that most of his time in the 21st century has been tumultuous for the 22-year-old.
But as Lang explains in a call from Austin, Texas—where he’s set to tape his third appearance on the concert TV show Austin City Limits—that’s not quite the case.
“That song in particular is probably excluded from that statement,” he points out with a chuckle. “I kind of wrote it in the hopes of relating to young people, and it’s just about growing up fast. I mean no matter what, whether you’re in high school or you’re going on the road with a band, you go through the same kinda stuff, feelingswise.”
Lang speaks from experience: he was only 16 when his debut CD, Lie to Me, was released and—thanks to the titular hit single—made him an instant blues-rock star.
“My dream came true a long time ago,” he points out, “and now everything’s just a bonus, you know. Ever since I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a singer; I’ve always known it’s what I’m called to do.”
Born in Fargo, North Dakota, which he describes as similar to the desolate locale depicted in the Coen brothers movie of the same name—“except for the wood-chipper scene”—Lang grew up with a deep love of his parents’ Motown records. That influence is most evident on the soulful Long Time Coming, which sports a heavy Stevie Wonder vibe throughout.
The CD’s bonus track is a live version of Wonder’s “Livin’ for the City”, a song likely to be heard when the Coastal Jazz & Blues Society brings Lang’s seven-piece band to the Orpheum on Tuesday (October 28).
Long Time Coming was coproduced by Lang and Marti Fredrickson, whose credits include Ozzy Osbourne, Faith Hill, and Aerosmith. The notable knob twiddler made Lang’s day by getting Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler to play harmonica on one track, but it wasn’t all fun and frivolity behind the console. The producers butted heads in the studio more than once.
“I had my set ways how I wanted to do things,” Lang notes, “and he just had to knock me down a couple notches. But this is what he does—he’s a master at it, in my opinion—so it didn’t take me long to get the hint to just kinda sit down and learn from this guy.”
Lang’s latest recording contains fewer blues-guitar freak-outs than his first two, but the decision to downplay the Telecaster action didn’t come from Fredrickson.
“I wanted the record to be more about the songs and the singing rather than just about the guitar as a featured instrument,” Lang relates. “You know, before the formula was like, ‘Do a couple verses and a chorus, then do, like, 36 bars of guitar solo.’ I got a little burnt out on jamming with every song, and it’s refreshing for me to just have a nice, concise album. But there’s still plenty of guitar on this record.”