There was a time in the 1990s and early ’00s when it seemed every time you turned around, radio deejays and music scribes were tripping over themselves to introduce fans to young hotshot guitarists carrying blues — or more accurately, blues-rock — into the future. Some weren’t even old enough to vote yet.
Fargo, North Dakota, native Jonny Lang leaped from regional hit to national wunderkind and the top of Billboard’s New Artist chart with his 1997 album “Lie to Me” when he was all of 15. That album and its Grammy-nominated follow-up, “Wander This World,” positioned Lang on the rock landscape, but following platinum success of “Lie to Me” wasn’t simple. By the time he was 21, he’d feasted on critical accolades, nursed bruises from brutal reviews, run down the rock star substance-abuse track, cleaned up, and gotten married. He’d also gone very public with a conversion to Christianity, which informed his Grammy-winning 2006 album “Turn Around.”
All that provided meaty source material for Lang as a songwriter and performer/ But, moving forward, it also presented difficult questions for an artist who’d launched his career as a rising hope for blues. As electric as his guitar solos were, and remain, it was his precociously soulful rasp that has set him apart from contemporaries like Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Derek Trucks. He hasn’t exactly been prolific as a recording artist; “Signs,” released in September, is only his seventh studio album, and with each release he has reached out from his blues roots to embrace contemporary R&B and gospel.
That’s broadened his musical reach and audiences, just as touring has beefed up the already muscular performance chops as singer and musician that are flexed throughout “Signs.” At 36, Lang’s a dad of five and no longer teen idol material, if he ever really was; neither his music nor his thoughtful demeanor lent themselves to Justin Bieber-like packaging. Instead, he alternates between bluesman howls and Prince-like falsetto as he contemplates a world of excess and chaos through the filter of his own experiences with heartfelt balladry (“Singing Songs”) and burning rockers like “Make It Move,” “Snakes” and “Wisdom” (“Wisdom can’t come too early/ For a young man with the whole world in his hand/ Yeah, wisdom can’t come too fast/ For a boy who will not heed the warning/ And it’s too late to turn back”). His arrangements may be pop-slick, but the message he communicates — live with hope and honesty — resonates.
Just returned from an autumn swing across Europe, Lang headlines at The Rose at The Paseo, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena, 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8; $38-$78. Limited VIP tickets available. Box office: (888) 645-5006. Jonnylang.com, wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com