You’re not a kid anymore

Johnny Lang charts a new course for his music and his image.

by Katie Wilber

Critical acceptance really has been a “Long Time Coming” for an artist who had two platinum albums and a Grammy nomination by the time he turned 19.

Jonny Lang first made a splash on the music scene at the tender age of 16 with “Lie to Me,” followed by “Wander this World” and “Breakin’ Me.” While most teenagers focused on homework, prom and getting the car keys, Lang was on the road opening for Aerosmith, Buddy Guy and B.B. King.

It has been four years since Lang put out an album, and this one incorporates more soul and rock compared to his previous blues-heavy sound. Instead of concentrating on one genre, he’s branched out and brought a variety of musical elements to his newest work.

With a voice that could belong to a 60-year-old chain-smoking blues guitarist, the 22-year-old who has graced the covers of Rolling Stone and Seventeen has put together something of an autobiography with the 15-track compact disc. It runs the gamut from love and hate to misery and teenage rebellion without sounding like someone else’s recycled music, probably because Lang either wrote or co-wrote all but one song.

He has a penchant for love songs, both about the troubles of a relationship on the rocks and about the glories of a newfound love. “Give Me Up Again” reflects the anger of a lover standing on the edge, fighting for what he once rejected in the name of love. At first glance, his lyrics seem too simplistic, but his voice and guitar emit so much raw emotion that anything more would be over the top. The quiet, thoughtful guitar solo at the beginning gives way to an intense, compelling account of being spurned over and over again by someone who seems incapable of doling out such harsh treatment.

It’s easy to picture Lang as he sings “Touch,” a new look at the age-old story of friends who become lovers. He puts into words the feelings and the questioning attitude of someone wanting more from a relationship but who is afraid of the answer.

But it’s not just Lang’s dream-date looks that attract fans. His mix of influences creates a unique sound, a rarity among today’s young musicians who generally produce only bubble-gum pop. He weaves a story for everyone, from high school and college students to middle-aged parents. In a nod to intergenerational appeal, he even has Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler playing harmonica on one track.