Long before Jonny Lang chose to release a 2008 performance from the Ryman Theatre, home of the Grand Ole Opry, as his first live CD, he had developed a soft spot for the Nashville venue.
"We've played there probably five or so times, and every single time it's been just an incredibly special experience," Lang said during a recent phone interview.
"It's just one of those places, you can't put your finger on why, but it just is very comfortable to play in. And a lot of that has to do with it being in Nashville, and I think for us anyway, the audience in Nashville is so warm. They're just very discerning music listeners."
Now with Lang's "Live at the Ryman" CD in stores, fans can hear 11 songs from that evening's set and decide if Lang and his band (guitarist/vocalist Sonny Thompson, keyboardist Tommy Barbarella, bassist Jim Anton, drummer Barry Alexander and percussionist/vocalist Jason Eskridge) chose a good performance to preserve for posterity.
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And they'll have a chance to see Lang in performance Saturday night at the Blues Brews & BBQ Festival at Hartman Arena.
On the CD, Lang sounds especially inspired as a vocalist, pouring plenty of passion into his performances on songs like "One Person at a Time," "Turn Around" and "A Quitter Never Wins." Lang and his band, meanwhile, are tight throughout the dozen songs and it's evident that the music is connecting with the Ryman audience.
"Live at the Ryman" features seven songs from Lang's previous two studio CDs — two from 2003's "Long Time Coming" and five from 2006's "Turn Around."
The latter album won a Grammy Award for best gospel album — an unusual category for someone who for years was compared to the late blues-rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.
A native of Fargo, N.D., Lang burst onto the national scene at age 16 with his major label debut, "Lie to Me." The title song from that 1997 CD became a hit single and propelled Lang into the forefront of the blues-rock scene.
He followed up that album with the 1998 CD "Wander This World," but then it would be another five years before he would release new music.
And when the "Long Time Coming" CD arrived in 2003, it reshaped Lang's image. The blues-rock was still there, but songs like "Second Guessing" and "I Am" (also included on "Live at the Ryman") showed that Lang had a talent for soul, Motown and funk.
Perhaps more significantly, "Long Time Coming" arrived after major changes in Lang's life. He got married, cleaned up his lifestyle and embraced Christianity. The spiritual influence in Lang's life was evident in the lyrics of several songs on "Long Time Coming," particularly on "Save Yourself" and "To Love Again."
That theme carried into "Turn Around," as its Grammy for best gospel album attests. Lang, though, said he didn't intend for "Live at the Ryman" to have any particular theme.
"It's one of those things, you know, it's a night-by-night basis, where you just get impressions of where the night is going and kind of where people are at in the audience, how they react to certain things you say or sing," Lang said. "You kind of tailor it to that as the night goes on. So in that sense, every night is very unique."