Still room to grow

Special to The Times

At an age when many kids are going to college, Jonny Lang took five years off from a burgeoning music career. But it seems he spent some of that time studying too. By the sound of his concert Tuesday at the House of Blues, Lang, 22, has been boning up on what to him must be ancient history: '70s rock, blues and Southern soul.

It all provided a backbone for songs from the North Dakota native's recently released "Long Time Coming" album, his first since 1998. Although the concert and the album show him maturing and exploring, they also show some growing pains and awkwardness.

Lang is at his best when he emphasizes his prematurely gritty voice and his feel for blues basics. Several new songs Tuesday seemed to reach for Clapton-esque pop balladry, but wound up sounding like generic power ballads. But when Lang played it straight, with his fluid guitarisms mixing nods to Clapton, B.B. King and Ernie Isley in front of the supple Southern grooves of his six-man band, he proved he has a strong foundation and the potential to grow as a distinctive artist -- if he focuses his graduate studies.

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