Lang is in his element live. The music and emotion aren't so much free to flow as something he propels.
Label: Sayrai Music
Time: 12 tracks / 79:57
While we usually think of Americana as that soft convergence where folk, country and blues traditions meet up for a drink, there is a sweatier, more electric version. Jonny Lang embodies that blend of gospel, soul, funk, R&B and electric blues.
Lang is in his element live. The music and emotion aren't so much free to flow as something he propels. Lyrically, he leaves the blocks running, with a sense of direction in each of the first few songs. His states that his purpose is "to change the world, one person at a time" and reminds the needy listener that "the road that you take might lead you astray, but it's never too late to turn around" without letting his driving purpose be upset by any little "bump in the road." After all, "A quitter never wins." It's refreshing to see such a natural blend of faith-based and everyday songs, especially played so well.
His band is right with him throughout, Tommy Barbarella's swampy organ filling out behind him and Jim Anton's tight bass often sparking off on some high runs up the fretboard. All the time, they play with one eye on where the bandleader is going.
Lang's own technique is impressive. He may misjudge a fret occasionally, but when he gets the pluck-and-pedal sounds he achieves on "I Am" you have to sit up and take notice. Vocally, this is a tour-de-force, with angst flowing as freely as his sweat, but balanced by some sweet falsetto.
While he is strong across the boards (he does have help from Jason Eskridge on the more gospel pieces) the highlights for me come on the slower blues pieces, where there is space for the inherent emotions to rise and fall and rise again, such as on "A Quitter Never Wins" (how has his guitar still got a neck after that solo?) and the faster and more intense "Give Me Up Again." With so much energy expended on so many tracks, it is easy to overlook the tender, understated "Breakin' Me"... and of course, the encore "Lie to Me" is concrete, pouting funk.
As befits an artist who moves between genres, he wears some influences on his hat. "Red Light" borrows a bit from Bob Marley; "Give Me Up Again" starts of like a cover of "People Get Ready" and it is a joy to hear an instrumental (if unaccredited) snatch of Laurie Klein's "I Love You Lord."
I was surprised that an artist with several albums behind him was unable to come up with more memorable tunes for a live collection. But if these are not songs with clean melodies that pop up in your head for days after hearing them, they are certainly solid while listening to them. They are growers, too. (Just a warning: great as it would have been, the twelve-minute "Livin' for the City" was not on my copy; it seems to only be available on download).
Altogether, this is a highly intense and emotional set with a broad range of styles, which Lang and his band play with equal skill.