Jonny Lang was born in Fargo (yep, the Fargo) in North Dakota in 1981 and like the charming characters so familiar from the famous movie Fargo he is of Norwegian descent. Spawned on a decent parental record collection and an abundant desire to master the electric guitar young Lang was soon ripping out startling versions of Hendrix tunes. He was given lessons by local act Bad Medicine Blues Band and then usurped the older boys with his talent to join as front man. His first two albums, Smokin’ (featuring an uncredited Steve Cropper) and Lie to Me went from word-of-mouth sensation to crossover successes. Precocious as they are they are fine ways to discover this guitar firebrand. They were eye opening then and are still bound to amaze. Although Lang is slightly sheepish about these early efforts he still wouldn’t have changed anything and points to his style starting to mature on cracking versions of “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and Ike Turner’s “Matchbox”.
Wander This World is an even more satisfying release. Backed up by Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward, Cropper again, and with a more subtle production afforded by David Z (who hired Prince’s sax man Eric Leeds to guest on “I Am”) Jonny Lang comes of age here mixing up a sound influenced by Albert Collins and Eric Clapton with a fair measure of Stax era soul.
We had to wait five years until 2003 for Long Time Coming, by which time Lang was married and overcoming his demons. That’s Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler playing harmonica on “Happiness and Misery”. There’s a tasty cover of Edgar Winter’s “Dying to Live” and a worth seeking out bonus track cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ For the City”.
He Grammy award winning Turn Around sees him come out the other side, clean, sober and in touch with his blues. The playing here is top-notch with guests like Michael McDonald, Jim Horn, Buddy Miller and Sam Bush kicking over the traces on a contemporary gospel album.
As a further means of continuing his rehabilitation Jonny released Fight For My Soul. In its first week of release, it topped the Billboard Blues Album Chart, hit No. 2 on the Billboard Christian Album chart, and reached #50 on the Billboard Hot 200. “I feel like most of the songs on this record are pretty autobiographical, whether they’re literal or not,” Lang said in 2013. “They’re about things I’ve been through over the last 10 years, and at times I felt like I was hanging on for dear life. A lot of that is in this record and I think my fans can sense that honesty in the songs.” This time he focuses on the material first and the flashier guitar work second. “I wanted to try to honor the songs and arrangements for what they were instead of covering them up in all this extra guitar. And I think that’s allowed me to be more honest as a musician.” The results are excellent. Now he’s still only 34 there’s no doubt that Jonny has plenty more albums in his tank. Dig his albums out and discover that here is a prodigy who actually made the grade.