Jeff Lang is a contemporary singer-songwriter from Australia whose heart resides in the Mississippi Delta. Or at least that's the impression he leaves on "Cedar Grove," an album ringing with the sound of bent notes, slide guitar riffs and resonator guitars.
Like kindred spirit Daniel Lanois, Lang isn't a blues traditionalist. He knows that the raw emotions inherent in Deep South blues are far beyond his reach, so he draws instead on the region's atmospherics, orchestrating his brooding ballads with altered tunings and steel-on-steel textures. Since nearly all of the album's 11 tunes are original compositions and Lang nearly always comes across as sincere, he doesn't suffer any unflattering comparisons. In fact, his rather boyish tenor takes on a certain soulfulness as the album unfolds and he gives voice to the restless characters who inhabit "Always Moving," "Broken One More Time" and other songs.
The Lanois connection is particularly evident on the album's closing track, Bob Dylan's "Call Letter Blues," a bleak, heartsick blues played out by Lang on lap steel guitar. Mercifully, Lang doesn't mimic Dylan's oft-imitated phrasing, but he does capture the profound despair implicit in the lyrics. It's also easy to discern the affection Lang has for Dylan's brand of torrential wordplay, especially on the album's raucous slide guitar romp, "Too Easy to Kill."
Appearing Tuesday at IOTA. To hear a free Sound Bite from Jeff Lang, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8127. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)