Review Summary: The Next Great Blues Guitarist is a 15-year-old kid from North Dakota, and his debut is one to pay attention to.Lie to Me
, Jonny Lang's auspicious if imperfect debut, announces the emergence of a prodigy who is already being labeled the Next Great Blues Guitarist. The fact that Lang released the record when he was only 15 years old only adds to the impression that Lang is destined for greatness. While there is certainly room for growth, especially in songwriting, Lang's emergence is one that should be noticed and carefully followed
Lie to Me
kicks off with the title track, a rhythmic blues-rock number that showcases Lang's amazing guitar skill to great effect - the riffing is tight and the solos are incendiary. The most surprising revelation, however, may be Lang's mature, bluesy voice. At the age of only 15, Lang is a stronger vocalist than Eric Clapton, although he's not yet at the same level of guitar work. "Darker Side" is a standard blues ballad, but here again the guitar work bears noticing as Lang is able to provide both unobtrusive rhythm and impressive solos with equal dexterity.
One of the strongest tracks is "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," a bouncy blues number that allows Lang to be a little playful. Showcasing how self-aware he is for his age, when Lang sings the lyric "tell your mama and your daddy/that I'm a little schoolboy too" you can tell from his voice that he enjoys the irony of the fact that he is
still a little schoolboy. The album begins to lose a little steam with "Still Wonder" - while it's a perfectly adequate ballad, it's a letdown after "Little Schoolgirl" and it doesn't particularly stand out as anything but pretty good filler.
Luckily, whoever ordered this album knew what he/she was doing. "Matchbox" is a sort of amalgamation of "Lie to Me" and "Little Schoolgirl" - while it doesn't have the impact of either of those numbers, it provides another showcase for Lang's guitar and makes for a fun, bouncy song. With "Back for a Taste of Your Love," Lang again provides an impressive, if by-the-numbers, interpretation of a blues standard, and what emerges is more high-quality filler. "A Quitter Never Wins" falls into the same category, although the opening guitar salvo on this ballad shows some of Lang's promise.
The slight mid-album slump disappears with "Hit the Ground Running," a return to the blues-rock that made "Lie to Me" such an effective opener. Lang's voice is again a revelation, investing the lyrics with more feeling than a 15-year old should have. It's with "Rack 'Em Up," however, that Jonny Lang's potential really shows itself. Breaking from his usual blues-rock, here Lang delves into some R&B, with a few jazzy elements, to tell the story of a pool-hall hustler. Here again, it is clear that Lang is having fun with the song, and the guitar work may be some of the best on the record, as Lang's solos seem to flow directly from the 1950s.
"When I Come to You" is notable as the first song on the record that Lang co-wrote. It is, not too surprisingly, slightly formulaic, but what can you expect from a kid without a lot of life experience? Taken with that in mind, "When I Come to You" shows promise for Lang as a songwriter, even if he's not quite there yet. "There's Gotta Be a Change" is more promising filler, as Lang continues to demonstrate guitar dexterity, even if he seems to have lost some ingenuity. The album finishes up with "Missing Your Love," another of Lang's songs. This is a bit of a suprise, and a departure, as the song sounds more like a pop-radio ballad than a blues lament. That said, it's a pretty decent pop song - it just sounds like it belongs on another record.
Even if the the last few songs weren't quite a strong finish, the idea that a 15-year old kid could put together a record like this is incredible. Jonny Lang's impressive debut certainly portends of further impressive feats in what will hopefully be a long career.