The first and only time I saw blues-rock guitar prodigy Jonny Lang live, he was riding a big wave of publicity that focused on how remarkable it was that a player in his teens had developed such facility on his instrument. Frankly, before I stepped into the auditorium, I couldn't tell the difference between Lang and the other young, fair-skinned blues-rock savior of the moment, Kenny Wayne Shepherd. An hour or so of his thoroughly derivative guitar histrionics did nothing to convince me that he had much to offer beyond his photographic memory of various Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan riffs.
But with 2003's Long Time Coming and now the gospel-soul album Turn Around, Lang's proved that he's much more than a flashy guitar hero. Aided by India.Arie producer Shannon Sanders, he gives several vocal performances that have surely made his idol, Stevie Wonder, smile. About half the tracks on the album are very strong, but Lang's at his grittiest on "Don't Stop (For Anything)," which mixes a funky hook with some of the old guitar pyrotechnics, then adds a big dollop of spiritual uplift for good measure. His convincing falsetto readings of the God-besotted piano ballad "Last Goodbye" and the yearning country-gospel "That Great Day" (where he gets musical help from Buddy Miller and Sam Bush) aren't nearly as commercial, but they communicate the kind of depth of feeling that can't be faked.
Jonny Lang, budding gospel superstar? Yeah, that could well be in the cards.
Jonny Lang plays the Orpheum Theatre on Nov. 14.