It had everything to classify it as world music... an Australian slide guitar master performing American blues and British folk with an Indian tabla player for company. When Jeff Lang and Bobby Singh took the stage on day four of The Hindu Friday Review November Fest, they lent a fresh flavour to the event.
Alternating between the plugged-in acoustic and slide guitar, that evening Jeff Lang went for tradition for the most part. While his style is heavily inspired by the American blues and British folk traditions, the Down Under touch comes from the lyrical content. Often described as ‘the godfather of an Australian-based back-to-basics blues movement,' the singer-songwriter in Lang was able to marry ‘ancientness' with modernity set in a somewhat middle-of-the-path space.
A self-confessed fan of Jimi Hendrix, Leo Kotke, Ry Cooder and the Uilleann piper Willie Clancy, among others, Lang selected a repertoire that was a cool mix of his own compositions as well as interpretations of classics such as Skip James' ‘Hard Time Killing Floor' and the American folk number ‘My Mother Always Talked To Me'.
The opening number established the feel of the evening as Lang displayed his unique ‘disturbed folk' style which while being steeped in the blues tradition, often displayed a strong Indian influence with raga riffs thrown in, in good measure. An interesting blend, indeed! The piece ‘Copper Mine' saw Lang showcase his unconventional vocals which was a giveaway about his self-confessed obsession with Bob Dylan, while at the same time reminding one of Neil Young.
The last piece, which he chose from the ARIA award-winning album “Djan Djan” which features the Kora player Mamadou Diatabe, was perhaps the most Indian in sound; in fact Lang's guitar seemed to transform into a sitar.
Here's an artiste whose romance with the guitar began when he was still a boy, and his fascination for an instrument which took root in the African-American blues tradition and got a breakthrough when Sylvester Weaver recorded a couple of pieces way back in the 1920s, has led him to experiment with varied sounds and collaborate with musicians who are “able to meet me half way and understand my music.” One such is Bobby Singh, whose rhythms that day were understated and yet kept up with Lang's guitar strains. Bobby'sbols andthekas were soft yet sharp, and never overrode the guitar.
The slide guitar or bottleneck guitar playing has been popular with lead guitar legends such as Duane Allman, Mick Taylor and even George Harrison. The pitch and tone of this instrument makes it possible to experiment and improvise, and create an almost-human-like sound. That's something that one heard quite a bit in Lang's playing… restless yet atmospheric strains.