Jonny Lang
Lie to Me
A&M 31454 0640 2
The problem isn't a teen-ager making a blues album. As Lang astutely told Maximum Guitar: "These blues history freaks that supposedly know everything about everybody usually just rag on me and say, 'Oh, you're too young, how could you possibly know anything?' ... B.B. King started playing guitar when he was 14 and had his own radio show segment on a local station. You don't have to start when you're old."

The problem is, well, this debut is pretty boring. It never veers off the predictable, well-traveled blues roads into anything resembling adventure. Some of the songs -- such as Lang's version of the Sonny Boy Williamson I classic, "Good Morning Little School Girl" and the rocking opening title track -- have funky spirit. And the cover choices are surprisingly inventive: Instead of whipping out "Sweet Home Chicago" for yet another go-around, Lang scavenges for gems from Syl Johnson and Ike Turner.

But Lang's version of Turner's R&B classic, "Matchbox," like most of Lie to Me, rests on 12-bar grooves -- and instead of using either singer or band energy to take the song to a higher level, Lang merely uncorks yet another long guitar solo. It's hard to get away with that unless you have the improvisational genius of Luther Allison or Buddy Guy, though many blues guitarists and harpists beat themselves into the ground trying.

Lang has a nice deep voice, but it has that contrived soul, the way the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson sounds when he's imitating Otis Redding or Rod Stewart. The back-up tracks are impeccable, especially on Lang's co-authored "When I Come to You" and the well-written Tinsley Ellis ballad, "A Quitter Never Wins," but that's because of the all-pro backing band. Both Lang and his critics have to realize that age hardly ever matters; talent -- and good ideas -- always do.

-- Steve Knopper

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Boulder, CO, USA.