Jonny Lang's new CD worth the wait
The obvious current storyline on Jonny Lang, the guitarist who exploded onto the scene at age 15 with the bluesy 1996 CD, "Lie to Me," is that he hadn't put out a CD in five years until his newly released third CD, "Long Time Coming," finally arrived in stores in October.
What hasn't been so widely documented is that Lang nearly released a third CD about three years ago.
In a recent interview, Lang said he actually had recorded about 30 songs with David Z, who also had produced Lang's 1998 sophomore CD, "Wander This World." Then Interscope Records bought Lang's label, A&M Records. And second thoughts — from both Lang and the new regime at Interscope/A&M — put his third record on a different path.
"I felt satisfied with the album, but I just, something just wasn't right to me," Lang said of the David Z-produced CD, which he said sounded similar to his first two CDs. "And I felt like this was going to be a really important record for me. It was kind of a crossroads. Do I really do what I really want to do? Or do I just settle stylistically, settle with this."
Interscope had some doubts as well and suggested that Lang get together with Marti Frederiksen, who has become one of rock's most in-demand songwriter/producers because of his collaborations with Aerosmith and Ozzy Osbourne, to write some additional songs.
"They were like: 'This stuff is fine. We don't really have anything that we can take to radio, so why don't you work with Marti and get a couple of songs.'"
This in itself was a major step considering Lang had written only a handful of songs on his first two CDs. Now, some three years later, Lang's promotional team at Interscope/A&M has 14 new songs they can consider for singles, the result of a songwriting collaboration with Frederiksen that blossomed into a full-blown recording project. In the end, Lang and Frederiksen co-wrote 12 of the songs on "Long Time Coming," while Frederiksen also produced the CD and played bass and drums on most of the songs.
"Long Time Coming" promises to reshape Lang's image as the next great hope for blues-rock and a guitarist who many predicted would fill the void left by the death in 1990 of Stevie Ray Vaughan. "Wander This World" had hinted that Lang's musical tastes stretched beyond the blues-rock music he had featured on "Lie to Me."
That second CD, while still emphasizing the bluesy side of his music, also suggested with songs like "Second Guessing," "I Am" and "Before You Hit the Ground" that Lang had a taste for soul, Motown and a bit of funk. The new CD brings those influences fully into the forefront, as "Long Time Coming" is predominated by songs that blend rock, soul and funk, such as the slamming "Get What You Give," a standout tune on the CD; "The One I Got," a breezy tune with a bit of a Stevie Wonder feel; and "Touch," a tune that tries to incorporate modern R&B and hip-hop into Lang's sound, but seems forced and somewhat awkward.
A poppier side to Lang's music emerges on the lead single "Red Light," one of only two songs on the CD not co-written by Lang and Frederiksen, and on "Beautiful One" and "Goodbye Letter," two dramatic ballads that seem tailor-written for radio play.
"Just like everybody, you have your own original style in you," Lang said, noting that he had grown up listening to Motown and soul and didn't discover blues until his early teens when he started playing guitar. "It was just what was in my heart to do."
Lang's music isn't the only thing that has changed dramatically in the five years since "Wander This World" was released.
First, he got married to his longtime girlfriend, actress Hayley Johnson and moved from Minneapolis to her home town of Los Angeles.
"It's wonderful," said Lang, 22, who seemed a bit reticent to discuss that aspect of his life. "I love being married."
Another profound change occurred more than three years ago when Lang embraced Christianity.
"There was just some stuff I was doing, some things I was involved in that were destructive in my life," Lang said. "I wasn't really looking to have a relationship with God at that point in my life, but nevertheless he decided to touch my life and totally turned me around and changed my heart.
"I'll never be the same after that. It was wonderful and I'm just so thankful for it. He gave me an awesome life and family, and I really, it's so undeniable to me. The before and after is just so much clearer, and the reasons why I do what I do and how to go about it, just my all-around confidence is so much greater. Yeah, I just think I'm a better person.''
Jonny Lang plays today — Jan. 29 — at the Pageant, 6161 Delmar Blvd. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show, which also features Johnny A., cost $30.