While still in his teens in the mid 1990s, Jonny Lang exploded onto the national scene with a combination of highly developed blues guitar chops and a powerful voice that rivaled some musicians more than twice his age. And that was just the beginning. Fifteen years and a half-dozen studio albums later, he has evolved into a seasoned musician and a road-savvy showman capable of delivering powerful live performances on his home soil and just about every other continent on the globe.
Concord Records captures that passion and energy with the release of Live at the Ryman, Lang's first record since 2006's Turn Around, which earned him a Grammy® Award for Best Gospel Album. Recorded at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, in the summer of 2008, Live at the Ryman, Lang's first ever live recording, offers a compelling glimpse of a young guitarist at the height of his creative powers, yet still open to exploring the depth and range of the blues and its relationship to R&B, soul, rock, gospel, funk and so may other emotionally riveting forms of music.
Backed by the five-man crew of guitarist/vocalist Sonny Thompson, keyboardist Tommy Barbarella, bassist Jim Anton, drummer Barry Alexander and percussionist/vocalist Jason Eskridge, Lang burns through a dozen songs first heard on studio albums dating back to 1997. This time, though, the songs heat up in the kind of pressure-cooker setting that can only take shape in the vibrant Nashville club scene.
The Ryman says Lang, is "one of those magical places where you just can't help but be inspired. I think a lot of that magic and inspiration makes it way onto this recording. It's a collection of some of the best songs from our studio recordings - only more energized, thanks to a great group of musicians and a very receptive live audience."
The set opens with the triple punch of "One Person At a Time," "Bump in the Road" and "Turn Around" - songs that reflect Lang's ever-evolving spiritual side. "In my own life, music has been such a powerful force, and I know that's the case for a lot of people," he says. "I've seen how music can give people the strength to change. After years of witnessing that, it's become more of a focus for me to write songs that really count."
Later, Lang and company churn their way through "A Quitter Never Wins," a song by veteran bluesman Tinsley Ellis that's been a consistent entry in Lang's live show for many years.
The set reaches its coda with "Breakin' Me," a melancholy ballad that segues into a burning rendition of "Lie To Me" - Lang's very first hit in 1997, and a song that continues to define him as a lead figure in the blues for a new century.
In many respects, Live at the Ryman is the record that Lang wanted to make all along - one that paints a vivid picture of a performer and a band who understand the significance of the blues as not only an art form unto itself, but as the wellspring for every meaningful and enduring form of music to follow.
"I've wanted to do a live record for a long time, because I feel like our band is strongest in the live setting," says Lang. "I think this record is a good representation of our live show, and an accurate reference for people who haven't seen us yet. Hopefully it will be an inspiration for them to come out and see us."