Jonny Lang's Live At The Ryman CD Review - by J. Blake

Posted on 4/27/2010 by J. Blake

(New York, NY)

The 1990s saw a strange influx of teenage blues-rock guitar prodigies. At the forefront of that movement was a 15 year-old kid from North Dakota named Jonny Lang. Now 13 years after his solo debut, Lang is still going strong with a new Concord Records release titled LIVE AT THE RYMAN.

Lang has always been touted as a performer that is better live than in the studio. So with his latest release he openly puts that theory to the test. LIVE AT THE RYMAN is the artist’s first live album and as it was recorded in front of a capacity crowd, at one of Nashville’s most beloved and historic venues, it would appear that the conditions for such a test are perfect.

Happily Lang manages to live up to expectation on many fronts. With the exception of “Breakin’ Me”, which unfortunately features more than just a few sour notes, his vocal performance is strong. He delivers a lyric with a verve and soulfulness that his beyond his years and his meaty baritone voice gives the material a weight that few of his contemporaries manage to achieve. His guitar-work also displays a surprising amount of maturity; often masterfully straddling that fine line between tasteful restraint and furious self-indulgence.

As a frontman, perhaps Lang’s strongest attribute is his ability to surround himself with talent. Guitarist/vocalist Sonny Thompson, keyboardist Tommy Barbarella, bassist Jim Anton, drummer Barry Alexander and percussionist/vocalist Jason Eskridge all deserve honorable mention. They manage to bring new life to Lang’s material, finding the delicate balance between polished professionalism and reckless abandon, but unfortunately it is Lang’s material that proves to be the album’s weakest link.

With only five previous studio efforts to pull from, Lang’s original songbook is not nearly as accomplished as his veteran counterparts or even many of his contemporaries. LIVE AT THE RYMAN is sadly burdened with being recorded after the 28 year-old musician’s artistic ‘about-face’ from promising blues-rock guitar savior to average rock-gospel/adult Top 40 singer. Not that Lang’s material was ever particularly strong, but more recent compositions like “Red Light”, “Don’t Stop (For Anything)” and “Thankful” (to name a few) are not doing him, his band or this live album any favors.

A cover of Tinsley Ellis’ “A Quitter Never Wins”, on the other hand, plays to Lang’s strengths and stands out as arguably the album’s best performance. Also worth mentioning is a marvelously energetic 12 and half minute version of Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ For The City”. Unfortunately it can only be found on select downloads of LIVE AT THE RYMAN, but it is definitely a highlight of the album and is worth scouring the internet for. Why it isn’t provided on the album’s standard release, boggles the mind.

With his first live album, Jonny Lang and his band deliver skill, energy and passion in spades, but at the end of the day it is the songs that make a performance. Lang is a fun performer to see live and LIVE AT THE RYMAN is certainly worth a listen, but without better material he will never fully meet his potential as a singer/guitarist…but then again that is just one man’s opinion.

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Copyright © 2010 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved

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