Jonny Lang: Long Time Coming
Genre: Soulful, vocally passionate pop/rock with guitar emphasis
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- The title of Lang’s 2003 release tells the tale in straightforward fashion: Long Time Coming, his follow-up to 1998’s Wander This World, was indeed a long time in coming. It might even be misleading to call it a follow-up, as it shows the young musician sprouting musically and otherwise. The back cover photo, which shows Lang’s lanky legs bursting out of torn, faded jeans, serves as a fitting visual metaphor for the growth that has occurred since he first signed with A&M Records as a teenage guitar prodigy. Lang’s well-established strengths as a guitarist and vocalist remain, but his influences have coalesced, moving his style ever further from the credible but basic blues-rock of his earlier discs. Along with facets of funk, soul and both old- and new-school R&B, he squeezes in the juiciest fruits of classic rock and prunes away its most histrionic excesses, making for a clean yet muscular sound long on passion and light on posturing. Lang’s authoritative, guttural vocals boast a seasoned presence beyond the twenty-something singer’s years, and his ability to straddle the youthful and the mature lends his work a multi-generational appeal. This wide-angle perspective is especially apparent in the itchy funk-rocker "Get What You Give," which shows savvy understanding of adolescent growing pains but also espouses wisdom regarding the need for parent-teen reciprocity. In the pounding, almost punkish "Happiness And Misery," he etches a pointed portrait of young adulthood’s emotional peaks and valleys, complete with lurching chord changes that perfectly underscore the song’s bipolar lyric. Throughout the disc, Lang and his co-producers work in similar ways, creating moods that complement and illuminate the ideas inside the songs. The fervent prayer contained in "Hide Your Love" finds expression in Lang’s yearning guitar solo, which ascends like a hand grasping Heavenward, while the slowly grinding "Save Yourself" exemplifies spiritual blindness with its darkly exotic guitar figure and tom-tom accompaniment.
Lang’s fusion of vintage black and white musical forms and his bristling vocal delivery are suggestive of Lenny Kravitz on several of the CD’s cuts, particularly more soul-derived workouts like "Beautiful One" and the wah-wah guitar-laced "If We Try." Still, Lang’s take seems more contemporary and less blatantly derivative than Kravitz’s previous work. If Lang falters, it’s in the way he nearly overstretches himself stylistically. On a few tracks, programmed drums (and guest programmer Eminem) are used to achieve a modern hip-hop-influenced vibe, an approach that adds street credibility but threatens to disturb the disc’s continuity. The bright tempo and computer-generated handclaps employed on "Dying To Live" lessen the impact of Edgar Winter’s poignant original, but succeed in making the powerful song accessible to a new audience.
Lang’s inclusion of hopeful themes relating to faith and transformation is a new and notable wrinkle - on his last outing, he claimed "sometimes it’s like I don’t even exist/ even God has lost track of my soul/ why else would he leave me out here like this/ to wander this world all alone." On his current record, he publicly dedicates his album and his life to Christ, and addresses redemption in "To Love Again." The song, which slowly unfolds from an easy R&B groove into a bombastic mid-section with a blistering slide guitar break, features a clear picture of salvation in lyrics like "no mistaking, I’ve been changed/ now and forever, I’ll never be the same." It’s heartening to see Lang profess Christianity yet stay true to his mainstream, rock-oriented musical vision, even though it might seem incompatible to some. Though he may be born again, this inspired guitarist and impassioned vocalist was also born to wail, which he proves on Long Time Coming.
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Steve Morley is a freelance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.