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Jonny Lang

Jonny Lang has survived in his twenty-eight years what most people don’t experience in five lifetimes. The North Dakota native skyrocketed to fame at the young age of fifteen, bolstered by Lie to Me, his 1997 multi-platinum big-label debut. The skinny white farm boy with the gravelly voice of a black blues veteran was hailed as the rightful heir to the throne of the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan. The comparisons were near undeniable, as Lang’s skillfully soulful guitar playing and rugged tenor echoed the talents of the Texas blues king. Perhaps even more haunting was the penchant for drugs and alcohol the teenager harbored, a habit that notoriously nearly killed Vaughan before he achieved sobriety in the late eighties.

The title track on Lie to Me is a blues-injected pop tune in the vein of Vaughan, characterized by Lang’s signature Telecaster twang and growling vocals. The song is as wild and restless as its narrator was. Listener reactions to the album were often mixed, colored by a reverence for Lang’s musical prowess and the unnerving feeling that almost inevitably accompanies hearing a boozy scorned lover’s tale told as by a child. Lang aggressively tried to fill the shoes of the prototypical bluesman, believing, like many musicians before him, that in order to truly play the blues, one has to “live” the blues.

Jonny Lang – Lie to Me (Album Version)

Several years and three records later, the prodigy experienced a spiritual rebirth, trading in the bottle for the Bible. His most recent studio album, 2006’s gospel-inspired, Turn Around, unveils a new man, less of a shadow of SRV and more of his own musician. During his recent live shows, Lang displays a virtuosity and restraint not found in his earlier records, and this is best showcased in the newly arranged Lie to Me.”

The song tends to startle audiences now, as it does not begin with the familiar howl of an electric guitar backed by a full band, but instead with a lonely reverb-drenched acoustic guitar, followed by ethereally mournful vocals. The tune moves from gently plucked single note lines splashed with wide vibrato to deliberate strums of the chord progression. Lang ends the piece with whispery falsetto moans evocative of the late Jeff Buckley. The effect of this new arrangement in a live setting is almost transcendent, a decidedly deep experience that casts audience members as firsthand witnesses to his transformation.

On one level, it serves to paint Lang as a confident artist, unafraid to strip his composition down to its essentials. On another, without the guitar gymnastics of the album track, the story of love and loss is brought to the forefront, and an intimate bond between the storyteller and his audience is forged. The bitterness and pain of “Lie to Me” in a live setting is now made evident and believable: no longer is Lang a boy miscast in the role of a man, but an introspective adult who has traversed the twisted path of addiction and has since achieved a remarkable degree of musical maturity.

Jonny Lang –  Lie to Me (Live)

MICHAEL HOWARD

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