On the phone from one of the many stops on his current tour, blues-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Jonny Lang sounds relaxed and confident, if a bit confused.
“Uh - well - I’m not exactly sure where we are,” he said with a laugh, when asked which town he was in.
It’s no wonder Lang’s schedule is blurring a bit. He’s been moving forward steadily since the release of his first real solo album, 1997’s Lie to Me, which cemented his status as heir apparent to the Stevie Ray Vaughan throne. His unusual voice - seasoned and gruff in spite of his youth - and his spectacular guitar solos got him plenty of acclaim.
Now he’s got a new album, Fight For My Soul, an expanded family (he’s got four little kids with wife Haylie, two who are twins), successful sobriety, and he’s in a better place than he’s ever been in before.
The title of Fight, he says, is a look back, indicating the “crazy seven or eight years” he went through a few years ago, before taking three years to write the album.
“I had kids, and suddenly I was in a tailspin in a lot of ways,” Lang said. “I didn’t realize what things like having children and being responsible for these little beings, would bring out of me - insecurities and such that I had never felt before.
So it was a fitting title, and it’s what the whole record is about.”
LAST MINUTE MELODY
Lang actually has two favorite songs from the new album, one of which almost didn’t make the tracklisting at all - but it’s one of the most personal tunes on the set.
“I wrote ‘Seasons’ when I was at our house over the holidays,” Lang explained. “And I was remembering when I was little and my parents were splitting up, so there was a lot of juggling around. I’ve always had kind of a bad feeling around the holiday since then, so it’s about some of the things that can happen in a broken-era family.”
“Seasons,” he confirmed, wasn’t even going to be on the record.
“But I played it for Tommy (Sims, Lang’s producer and collaborator) and he said, ‘I’m sorry, but we’re doing it,’” Lang said. “So there it is.”
Lang’s second favorite from Fight shows off his storytelling side.
“”I’ll Always Be” is loosely written with the idea that it’s God talking to people, to the people that he loves,” Lang explained. “but it’s in the form of a great composer who’s in love with the dancer who’s danced for all of the music he’s written.”
It would be easy to conceptualize more than one music video for that one, Lang says, adding it’s one of the rare songs he’s written on piano.
“And I don’t do that often,” he said, “so I’m pretty proud of it.”
In live performance, however, his favorites change - Lang has enjoyed playing “We Are the Same” the most at his recent shows.
“It’s such a fun song to sing, and I like it because it’s really different musically from the rest of the set,” he said.
Speaking of live shows, Lang has plenty on his schedule. After a few more stateside dates (including a stop in Michigan) he’s headed to Europe for several weeks, and then back for more U.S. shows through the end of August.
But while the excitement of touring is still there for him, his goals on stage have changed.
Lang is often told stories by people he meets on the road, people who have heard his songs and found what he’s singing relates directly to their lives.
“That hit me so hard over the past few years. How this song or that song has really impacted people,” he said. “Even talking about it now gives me a sense of how important it is.”
“It’s so much more than ‘hey, let’s go out there on stage and rock out. It’s a real honor.”
Jonny Lang will be in concert at Odawa Casino Resort in Petoskey on Friday, June 20 at 8 pm, doors at 7 pm. Tix $30/$40/$55 at odawaresort.com