If you go
What: Jonny Lang, in concert.
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 19.
Where: Roseland Theater, 8 N.W. Sixth Ave., Portland.
Cost: $26.50 to $39.50 for 21 and older.
Information: 800-992-8499 or http://roselandpdx.com.
There are no blues songs on “Fight for My Soul,” Jonny Lang’s first album in seven years.
And it’s far from being dominated by Lang’s guitar. Instead, it’s a mix of pop, rock and contemporary R&B that, at times, sounds more influenced by Michael Jackson than Buddy Guy.
“When I was younger, I thought ‘I’ll always be a blues guy,’ so to speak,” Lang said “Things just change. You grow up. The songs I write myself have always been different from what people might expect, different from a guitar-centric rockin’ blues record.”
“I’ve been afraid, for a lot of years, to record my songs,” he said. “With this record, for the first time, I said ‘I’m going to die if I don’t get these songs out.’ Hopefully people will still enjoy it. But I’m sure some people are going to say ‘Dude, where are all the blues songs and guitar solos?’”
Lyrically, Lang’s making a similar jump -- expressed in the recent single “Blew Up (The House)” from the new album; a catchy stomp about a guy who’s hit bottom and starting over fresh. That’s not entirely autobiographical, but Lang said it captures something about him. Some of the songs, including a Christmas number, reflect his faith, as did his 2006 Grammy-winner “Turn Around.” Others talk about relationships and trying to do right by others.
“I feel like I’m getting better at saying what I want to say lyrically and also musically,” Lang said. “I feel like a more balanced person now, which helps with that. There are still some bits of psychosis that need to be worked around. But I’m getting better at being a good person, and I’ve got a patient wife.”
Lang and wife Haylie, whom he married in 2001, have four children and call southern California home. Lang puts a priority on being a husband and father rather than living anything resembling a wild life.
“All that has served to tame me,” he said. “It’s really helped me become a better person and maybe not being so self destructive. … Being married and having kids, you have to have the values and principles to keep your family together. That’s really changed me and helped me.”
Lang freely confesses that he headed for excess in the past, when he was a teenager living out the rock and roll dream.
First band at 13
A native of Fargo, N.D., Lang, now 32, was playing guitar in his first band at age 13, and soon after that he relocated to the bigger city of Minneapolis, Minn., where he fronted his own group, Jonny Lang and the Big Bang. Word began to spread about the young musician whose skills as a player far exceeded his young age. Lang was all of 16 when he released his major label debut, “Lie To Me,” in 1997.
That record went multi-platinum, and Lang was a young star being touted as the successor to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan -- a multi-talented guitarist and singer who would revitalize the blues genre by bringing it to the mainstream rock audience. As “Lie To Me” gained in popularity, Lang found himself touring with heroes like the Rolling Stones and Buddy Guy, and playing at the White House for President Clinton in 1999.
And when the “Long Time Coming” CD arrived in 2003, it reshaped Lang’s image as a blues-rock hotshot. The blues-rock was still there, but several songs, including “Second Guessing” and “I Am” showed that Lang had a talent for soul, Motown, funk and even pop.
That album also arrived after he had gotten married to Haylie, cleaned up his lifestyle and embraced Christianity. The spiritual influence in Lang’s life was evident in the lyrics of several songs on “Long Time Coming,” particularly on “Save Yourself” and “To Love Again.”
His next album, 2006’s “Turn Around,” continued to expand on Lang’s musical range, while also carrying forth the spiritual thread in its lyrics. That much was made obvious when it won a Grammy for best gospel album -- an ironic twist for a musician who had been so identified with the blues-rock world up to then.
Now Lang’s music has taken a new turn on “Fight for My Soul,” and Lang is busy bringing his most personal music to fans who have followed him for 16 years the best way he knows how -- by playing live shows.
“All of the guys who are on the road with me will be on the record, that’s a first,” Lang said. “Playing in the studio is a different animal all together than playing live. You’re under a microscope there. Sometimes musicians used to playing live don’t sound good in the studio. Sometimes its the reverse. But these guys are the best musicians I’ve ever played with. To have the same guys in the studio and on the road is a blessing.”
Rest assured, Lang will be doing some of his old songs and cranking up the guitar at the shows as well.
“We’re going to do our best to try to span the years and play a little of each era,” he said. “If they let us, we’ll go two hours or more. You can cover a lot in that amount of time. If we have to go shorter than that, it gets a little more difficult. But we’ll try to cover everything.”