Whatever Makes You Happy
Year of Release: 2004
Release Status: Available
Limited Edition Extra Disc:
Studio Outtake One.
Includes: The Day I Got Chewing Gum Stuck In My Hair Parts 1 & 2, Accidental Seabirds, Alas the Big Bear of Beauty Point, I’m Still Here (T. Waits) & Smacker Fitzgibbon’s Combing Lotion.
Studio Outtake Two
Includes: Orange Roughie, Hanna Barbaric, Fuzz Factory, Gaffa Crack Waxing, Corney Chicken with Pinezies & Mentholyptus Mangles’ Camera Angles.
Too Easy To Kill / Hellhound On My Trail
(J. Lang / Robert. Johnson)
Dan Lander, Rolling Stone
– July 2004
A great guitarist resists the urge to over play.
Jeff Lang comes to “Whatever Makes You Happy” draped in his finest singer-songwriter regalia, letting his renowned guitar work serve the songs rather than sit as the only attraction on the album.
Tracks like “Alive in There” and “The Day I Got Chewing Gum Stuck in my Hair” intertwine his delicate guitar with aching, ambient backings to build songs that focus on his gentle voice and subtle turn of phrase rather than his fret work.
When Lang does unleash his guitar genius, like on the rollicking minor blue-grass of “The Road is Not Your Only Friend”, it is clear that he is still striving to put that guitar into the context of a good song, and his commitment to that approach pays off.
Jeff Lang could potentially be the most commercially viable of the ‘blokes with acoustic guitars’ revolution, swinging from Malacca’s reverence of dust to Petty’s slick swagger, often applied with punchy hooks more akin to Billy Joel than a rootsy master of strings. He’s got a powerful voice when it clicks into fourth gear and as for his work on guitar; if it’s got strings, he can play it. To me, it sounds like there was – and possibly still is – a worship of the American classics, but while he allows this to be an influence, Jeff doesn’t go ruining the whole sound with a thick yank drawl; the local accent shines through enough for us to claim this music as homegrown.
From the most raw folk through to the more upbeat rock-tinged numbers, Lang runs the full gamut of organic genres and Whatever Makes You Happy is a worthy contribution to the short list of truly able players that are bubbling to the surface in 2004. Initially, I was impressed with a dense sound that filled the room as The Save blasted out of my many speakers, but after Alive In There, I was starting to think that Lang’s sound was bigger than any of his songs. Luckily, Rain On Troy proved his worth as a composer, aided by the guidance of his smooth vocal tones. Current Jeff Lang fans will be interested to know that a Special 2CD Limited Edition of this album comes with studio outtakes and the many fans of John Butler get extra value out of the bonus material with two live tracks recorded at the Continental in Melbourne, with Jeff, John and Angus Diggs.
Jeff Lang probably has a more mature appeal than his peers, but if there was any time for a push into mainstream circles, 2004 must be the perfect opportunity and with an album like Whatever Makes You Happy, many doors are sure to open.
RM, Shout Magazine
Roots-inspired music and its assorted genres are in the middle of a massive explosion. Jeff Lang’s new set proves that the quality and talent is there and now it is up to the marketing department to get the sounds out to the public.
The album opens with an irresistible foot-tapper in The Save, a clear winner with its propulsive percussion and melodies. But then this is an entire album of appealing material that elegantly twists its way into your subconscious. An upbeat number like You Should Have Waited emphasis the importance of shading when putting together an album like this.
Everything here is in equal measure, compliments everything else and just makes you wanted hear it interpreted live.
Brett Ladhams, X-Press Magazine, WA
Jeff Lang is one of those unusual musical characters in that he divides the listening public not into one of love or hate, but simply into those that know and those that don’t, yet. It’s a borderline cult obsession the man unwittingly casts through his dramatic and interactive live shows and unwavering recorded (and live) consistency. Hell, Lang can lure a crowd to a backwater venue in a quaint US country town for God’s sake, and did so last year. Not to mention performing with both the Bobs (Dylan and Geldolf) in recent times.
All this background is needed to first understand exactly what a new Jeff Lang release means to many people, and secondly to appreciate why the polite Melbourne singer/songwriter has done what he’s done on Whatever Makes You Happy. Strictly speaking this new album from Lang isn’t a solo offering. He’s gone against the grain of the solo ethos and enlisted backing vocalists, piano, brass and harmonica to his now core band of Angus Diggs (drums) and Grant Cummerford (bass).
The results are typically stunning, brimming with life and the overall feel is still recognisable as having tumbled from Lang. Check out The Save, You Should Have Waited and the slower By Face Not Name and Rain On Troy for some inspired sounds.
Whatever makes you happy” the new cd by Jeff Lang is destined to become one of those fade-proof recordings that gives a good cd collection its bones. This is a disc full of blues informed stories carried on a contemporary-roots hybrid music style – with plenty of pounding pantry percussion, some quiet whispering, and lots of legit musical goodness.
On it, the guitar plays second string to the writing as Lang gives his songs only what they need. Don’t be alarmed though, because there’s enough busting out lickety-split guitar (and mandolin) to keep axe heads happy. After all, guitar art is what Jeff Lang is known for best.
Unusual in construction, instrumentals hang off of the end of some songs like post-it notes, giving the whole recording an extended presence. Most songs are fretted with a raw and vaguely troubled undertow. The winged and wild, “The road is not your only friend” works up to an alarmingly neurotic shrill. Come track 9, “Rejected novelist fails again”, and we find that we are not alone (el sol salio anoche y me canto!) I’d flag this song as a favourite. “Slip Away” has a gorgeous groove, reminiscent of, say, a Kelly Joe Phelps recording.
What I like about the production of “Whatever makes you happy” is the fact that Jeff didn’t go for super slick hydraulics (which he could easily have done if he did in fact have the plump production purse inferred by several Australian music-journalists) Nope, this is spag bog with grit; ice cream and tomato sauce, or if you prefer, raw pineapple with salty yeast spread. The inclusion of a dilly bag full of other talented Aussie musicians has enabled Lang to deliver a musical picture in wide screen format, and hints of big possibilities for future recordings.
The instrumental “Whatever makes you happy” is like a carefree shrug at the end of the cd, and bugger me if there isn’t just the teensiest hint of reggae. Yes. Me thinks it’s time for a big fat one.
JEFF APTER, The Bulletin, August 2004 –
There’s a real lost-in-space vibe about the latest album from Jeff Lang, the Melbourne blues/folk guitar ace. Whatever Makes You Happy could have just as easily emerged from Woodstock, 1969, as Melbourne, 2004.
Now bankrolled by a major, Lang brings in some pals (blues-belter Chris Wilson, harp-blower Matt Walker), as well as tinkering in the studio with everything from pre-digital gear to op-shop kitchenware. While best known for pulling off the type of fleet-fingered stringwork rarely heard this side of trailer-park bard Chris Whitley, don’t overlook Lang’s knack for storytelling. It’s as if he wrote most of this first-rate album with his car window cracked, as he barrelled down the highway, heading for some dusty outpost.
Tony Hillier – Barfly 5 FLIES
Everything Is Still lifted Jeff Lang to a new benchmark, Whatever Makes You Happy nails him to the upper rung of creative artists. The Victorian’s last studio album was a prime candidate for best domestic release of the decade; his debut recording for ABC Music is in many ways its equal, and in some respects superior.
Whatever Makes You Happy sees Lang move a little further away from his original blues base. Long regarded as one of the country’s most innovative and versatile guitar slingers, he is now firmly established among the upper echelon of singer-songwriters, alongside the likes of Paul Kelly, Don Walker and Shane Howard. Lang’s songs have a cinematic quality; his vignettes resonate with vivid imagery, poetry, passion, and intelligence. Many seem to reflect the writer’s protracted spells on the road both here and in the USA; the loneliness of the long distance touring artist if you will.
The songs are given additional depth by Lang’s sheer musical invention; the writer’s trademark heart-tugging melodies, the dexterity of his guitar playing and sharp sense of dynamics (two of his strongest qualities), and the telepathic rapport he enjoys with his regular rhythm section, drummer extraordinaire Angus Diggs and bassman Grant Cummerford. In Whatever Makes You Happy, Jeff also recruits the services of some carefully selected special guests and instrumentation, giving his songs an expanded range of stylistic setting. On ‘By Face, Not Name’, a chilling story of rape and its aftermath, he engages in a vocal duet with Suzannah Espie with the latter’s GIT colleagues and Chris Wilson on back-up vocals.
On ‘Rain on Troy’, a song of despair that cuts to the quick, the pervading sadness is eerily echoed by Azo Bell’s eloquent singing saw. ‘You Tremble’, a disturbing love song, employs vibraphone and looped percussion as atmospherics. On the boisterous ‘Rejected Novelist Fails Again’, the inherent frustration and impending sense of calamity is bolstered by trombones and tuba. In ‘You Should’ve Waited’ and ‘Sleeping’, Bruce Haymes’ Bruce Hornsby-esque piano is complements Lang’s acoustic and electric guitars and lap steel. Matt Walker’s harmonica proves a perfect foil to Jeff’s national guitar in the superbly evocative ‘Alive in There’, a bluesy song that reeks of country Australia or mid-West USA (‘It’s a dry heat that blew him through town / Why would a service station throw its shadow down? / Does anybody live here? / Is there anyone alive in here?’). Fiddle follows Lang’s fast and furious mandolin and national guitar finger-picking to give the closing song, ‘The Road Is Not Your Only Friend’, a kind of New Grass Revival meets Richard Thompson feel. It’s almost a companion piece to the riveting first track, ‘The Save’, which, courtesy of Diggs’ percussion (and Lang’s guitars and trowel), hurtles along like the Indian Pacific mentioned in the opening line.
The songs on Whatever Makes You Happy are punctuated by four short, sharp instrumental interludes (three of less than 40 seconds duration), two featuring the talents of that under-exposed guitarist and percussionist Chris Finnen. The Adelaide maestro’s affinity with Indian music – and no doubt Jeff Lang’s increasing interest in world sounds, cultivated by his liaison with Bob Brozman – is evident on the bonus disc of outtakes, which features some inspired jamming including a heavy duty work-out. Also included on CD2 is a medley of two songs recorded live at Melbourne’s sadly defunct Continental Cafe with a cameo appearance from John Butler (who cites Jeff Lang as a major influence).
As far as this reviewer is concerned, Whatever Makes You Happy is already a top candidate for 2004’s Australian album of the year.
Julie Fox – Sydney Blues Society Newsletter
Have you ever heard anyone describe Jeff Lang’s style as mellow or peaceful – well neither had I, and never thought I would be using those words to convey how I felt on listening to this excellent offering – Jeff’s long awaited 13th CD. I had heard touches of Jeff’s vocals reach quite high notes before, but this recording showcases an entirely different format for his music. Previously as an Independent artist, Jeff always seemed to be hovering on the doorstep of commercial success and acceptance in Australia, but with this latest CD, and signing to the ABC label, surely the doors must open to welcome him onto mainstream play lists. If Whatever Makes You Happy doesn’t do it then I can’t imagine what else could!
Jeff’s new approach might have had something to do with the musicians he chose to help him on this production. Featuring heavily with backing vocals is the all-girl group Git from Melbourne, whose voices blend perfectly with Jeff’s vocal pitch. Jeff also enlisted the help of fellow singer/songwriter/guitarist Tim Hall to co-produce this album. Then we have the perfect rhythm section of Angus Diggs (drums/percussion) and Grant Cummerford (electric & acoustic bass). Several tracks also feature Chris Wilson (backing vocals), Matt Walker (harp), Chris Finnen (acoustic guitar), as well as various others on piano, vibraphone, fiddle, a horn section and one guy playing singing saw!
If you are talking ‘value for money’ then CD one contains 15 tracks, all written by Jeff, with some collaborations being Lang/Finnen/Diggs/Cummerford. Included are 4 beautiful instrumentals; although so short they are almost a teaser. Standout tracks would have to be the haunting piece By Face, Not Name, with Suzanah Espie (Git) sharing vocals and Jeff playing lap steel guitar. Rejected Novelist Fails Again has the best lyrics, with a touch of Jeff’s heavier electric guitar and horn section. You Tremble, beautifully sung with Jeff using his National steel guitar and loop percussion. The Road Is Not Your Only Friend changes tack with the use of mandolin and fiddle; frenetic Celtic music might a good description – works well! The title track, another too-short instrumental, finally brings this CD to a close, but wait, there’s more – CD two contains 3 tracks – Studio outtake one and two – both instrumentals, each running for around 20 minutes! Track 3, Too Easy To Kill/Hellhound On My Trail sees Jeff back on vocals. This bonus CD was recorded live at the Continental in Melbourne and also features guest artist John Butler, who aptly sums up the situation with this comment: “Jeff Lang is the man as far as I am concerned”!
Antoine Légat – www.bobtjeblues.com
This CD is from 2004, but apparently it’s been released in Europe only recently, in preparation of a forthcoming European tour. Nothing too soon, as Jeff Lang in between made a new album, number ten, it seems. Maybe it points at the fact that the Aussie doesn’t sell that well. Nothing too soon also because ‘Whatever Makes You Happy’ is in our modest view a Masterpiece.
The man might have a loaded blues past and be an accomplished virtuoso on about everything that’s got strings and a wooden body, but this CD just sounds like a singer-songwriter album, the kind Ryan Adams, Josh Ritter, Bruce Cockburn or Richard Thompson produce. His supple, flexible, somewhat creamy voice works itself through his own compositions (three of which are co-credited), songs of a very varied kind, with just a snuff of blues in them. The functionality of his delivery temporarily hides the fact that Jeff Lang actually plays a mean guitar. A clear, limpid production (those little voices!) is a paragon of functionality in its own right. It’s simple… It’s all for the song! And songs there are on this one, to begin with one of the most enchanting tunes we’ve heard in years, ‘By Face Not Name’: Jeff gets endearing vocal assistance by Suzanna Espie and he himself plays a heavenly slide, all this on a blanket of soft and deep moaning sounds. Sweet and sour because, while the song might be smooth, its theme is gruesome: a raped girl unjustly gets presented the bill. ‘Rejected Novelist Fails Again’ has a brilliant score with trombones and tuba and is a real tour de force, and that not only for the electric guitar playing. But there are thirteen more songs like that to discover, between the rhythmic ‘The Save’, kind of a work song, and the closing gracious instrumental title tune. They all are pleasing in their own way!
It’s not surprising that this man is wanted as a sidekick, session musician or warm-up. Not so long ago there was the release of ‘Dislocation Blues’, where Jeff collaborated with the dearly missed Chris Whitley. We certainly will get acquainted with the other records Lang has made, as soon as we are able to do so, but ‘Whatever Makes You Happy’ makes us already extremely happy indeed, and that’s without ‘whatever’s! Antoine Légat – www.bobtjeblues.com This CD is from 2004, but apparently it’s been released in Europe only recently, in preparation of a forthcoming European tour. Nothing too soon, as Jeff Lang in between made a new album, number ten, it seems. Maybe it points at the fact that the Aussie doesn’t sell that well. Nothing too soon also because ‘Whatever Makes You Happy’ is in our modest view a Masterpiece.
The man might have a loaded blues past and be an accomplished virtuoso on about everything that’s got strings and a wooden body, but this CD just sounds like a singer-songwriter album, the kind Ryan Adams, Josh Ritter, Bruce Cockburn or Richard Thompson produce. His supple, flexible, somewhat creamy voice works itself through his own compositions (three of which are co-credited), songs of a very varied kind, with just a snuff of blues in them. The functionality of his delivery temporarily hides the fact that Jeff Lang actually plays a mean guitar. A clear, limpid production (those little voices!) is a paragon of functionality in its own right. It’s simple… It’s all for the song! And songs there are on this one, to begin with one of the most enchanting tunes we’ve heard in years, ‘By Face Not Name’: Jeff gets endearing vocal assistance by Suzanna Espie and he himself plays a heavenly slide, all this on a blanket of soft and deep moaning sounds. Sweet and sour because, while the song might be smooth, its theme is gruesome: a raped girl unjustly gets presented the bill. ‘Rejected Novelist Fails Again’ has a brilliant score with trombones and tuba and is a real tour de force, and that not only for the electric guitar playing. But there are thirteen more songs like that to discover, between the rhythmic ‘The Save’, kind of a work song, and the closing gracious instrumental title tune. They all are pleasing in their own way! It’s not surprising that this man is wanted as a sidekick, session musician or warm-up.
Not so long ago there was the release of ‘Dislocation Blues’, where Jeff collaborated with the dearly missed Chris Whitley. We certainly will get acquainted with the other records Lang has made, as soon as we are able to do so, but ‘Whatever Makes You Happy’ makes us already extremely happy indeed, and that’s without ‘whatever’s!
Julian Piper, Guitarist Magazine, UK, July 2007
“Outback slide adventures”
Forget all that diddlee, diddlee, dee dee slide guitar stuff; from the first bars of the haunting loping introduction to Save, this Aussie lap steel, National steel playing wizard just about reinvents the genre. Of course the blues is omnipresent, particularly in the short sonic instrumental vignettes like Accidental Seabirds and Orange Roughie, but it’s on the unexpected and spacey excursions like the spooky Switchblade, reeking of dusty outback roads and wide open spaces that Lang excels. Occasionally he covers just too many bases for comfort – his Elton like piano opus Sleeping is a clunker – but overall this is Steel guitar magic of the highest order. Standout Tracks : Save, Switchblade, The Road Is Not Your Only Friend.
- The Save
- Alive In There
- You Should Have Waited
- Orange Roughie (Instrumental)
- By Face Not Name
- Rain On Troy
- The Day I Got Chewing Gum Stuck In My Hair (Instrumental)
- Rejected Novelist Fails Again
- Accidental Seabirds (Instrumental)
- You Tremble
- Slip Away
- The Road Is Not Your Only Friend
- Whatever Makes You Happy (Instrumental)