Jeff Lang – I Live in My Head a Lot These Days
There is a nagging paradox in roots and blues music – how can an artist develop and evolve in a genre that, by its own definition, is largely about preserving the spirit and sounds of the past. Any reaching for the unknowns of the future immediately confuses a style that is beloved by millions for giving them (over and over) the woody, worn and warm knowns of the past.
Certain artists, though, have managed to evolve over their entire careers – each new release being simultaneously built on the rock of their past work as well as the work of the greats of their genre, while still moving forward as artists.
Australia’s guitar maverick Jeff Lang is always moving forward – or more accurately, upward. Each album since his debut, 1994’s Ravenswood, the trajectory of Lang’s highly original style of “disturbed folk” has been, while not a perfect arc, consistently evolving.
This evolution can be seen clearly in his new album, I Live in My Head a Lot These Days. By comparison to 2011’s Carried in Mind, it is an entirely different animal, partly through the refinement of Lang’s craft, partly through the hungry restlessness of his art.
The album is altogether darker – fraught with obsessive themes of fear and alienation – than the far more rollicking and folky Carried In Mind. Opener ‘Watch Me Go’ has the roll of a country dance but one’s smile is soon wiped away by the lyric which deals with violence, mugging and Dutch thieves.
‘Petra Goes to the Movies’ deals with the dislocation and alien worldview of the outsider, lived through the tale a lonely movie-obsessed girl. The music – all skinned-knuckle guitar and clattering bone-percussion – perfectly matches the harrowing narrative. It’s a rocker but one that makes your skin crawl; the final suspended chord leave it all hanging.
From here the heart of the album relaxes into a blue-black mood. The tracks are slow and mid-tempo, rising and falling like the frowsy cycle of depression and meds-induced happiness: the lovely ‘People Will Break Your Heart’ is Neil Young strummed soul (‘It’s Saturday night/I should be blasted on wine…’), ‘The Pull of the Drift’ floats down a dark canal on squiggly Indian pull-offs; ‘Waiting for The Headlights Through The Blind’ is a short story of claustrophobic paranoia with gnashing guitars and prickles across the nape of your neck.
The loveliest moment of I Live in My Head a Lot These Days to this reviewer is the double-dream of the next two tracks. Strangely (because of their similar somnambulistic dynamic) but perfectly sequenced together, ‘Standing on The Shore’ and ‘My Darling Girl Don’t Change’ are so complete in mood and setting they draw you in like a drowning pool.
‘Standing on The Shore’ opens with the lyric ‘Under a hollow moon/I’m standing on the shore…’, the poetry of which is the overarching atmosphere of I Live in My Head a Lot These Days. Dreamlike, foreboding, moonlit through clouds, nightime of the soul – the mood is heightened by the quality of Lang’s plaintive vocal over a dulled 7/4 background. Like Neil Young, by comparison to his intense and open-throated guitar playing, Lang’s voice is not his strong suit. And yet, like Young, there is a particular quality that can be transporting in the right context.
‘Standing on The Shore’s twin – or country-cousin – ‘My Darling Girl Don’t Change’ is equally dreamlike but warmer. Over sweet acoustic guitars, even this love song has its doubts: ‘It scares me a little/To see how open you are’. Minor chords in among the sunny majors put small clouds over the lovers’ future. The final minor chord draws grey across the face of the sun.
For all its darkness and doubt, its nightshadows and paranoia, I Live in My Head a Lot These Days finishes on a brighter note. Like the rose of the dawn, ‘The Promise of New Year’s Eve’ pinks the walls and warms the air. A truly sweet six minutes of country waltz, it leaves us with some hope as Jeff Lang falls to his knees, ‘drunk on the promise of New Year’s Eve’.
Jeff Lang will be touring I Live in My Head a Lot These Days nationally through June and July. Tour details are at http://jefflang.com.au/tour-dates/