Sonny Landreth: Grant Street

[10 February 2005]

By Jason MacNeil

Sonny Landreth is a guitar player who a lot of people haven’t heard of. But if you’ve listened to any of John Hiatt’s albums, you’re bound to have listened to some of his licks. Influenced greatly by the old blues guitarists such as Robert Johnson and Charley Patton, Landreth’s latest album is a work that shows what one can do with a guitar, some amps and a hell of a lot of imagination and ingenuity. Part slide-guitar, part blues, part soul, and part rock, Landreth’s unique style sounds like a rock guitarist who has discovered you can have fun with a slide/bottleneck approach.

This is especially evident on the light but bluesy roadhouse style of “Native Stepson”, which opens the album. The tightness of the band, consisting of bassists David Ranson and drummer Kenneth Blevins, make it sound as strong as Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop. Landreth keeps it simple, but has some shining moments throughout the track, especially after the four-minute mark where he goes off on a wild, Clapton-esque tangent. This lends itself nicely to the ensuing creepy, crawling blues effort “Broken Hearted Road” that finds its groove from the get-go. Landreth breaks the song open a tad after the first verse but it rarely veers from Ranson’s bass line. The riffs are few and far between, but Landreth builds the momentum with each one, as the crowd’s whistles and howls can be heard in the distance. Landreth takes it to the next level with louder, meatier licks, and it soars over the standard Texas blues blueprint. Unfortunately the Cajun or Zydeco-tinged “Gone Pecan” sounds like an old run-through of old-school rock and roll with less feel. Landreth opts for a chugging beat a la “The Bug” by Dire Straits but it simply misses the boogie-inducing mark.

The album takes a breather with the jerky “Port of Calling”, coming off like a rehashed psychedelic run-through more than much else. Landreth does some nice runs, but it’s not exactly a barnburner in terms of intensity or verve. He’s playing it close to the vest with this one, picking his spots to add some sonic color. Fortunately this is an aberration thanks to the rowdy, funky “Blues Attack”, which has all three players working on the same page. This is perhaps Landreth’s strongest vocal thus far (okay, some of these tunes are instrumentals), as he works in tandem with his axe.

“Z. Rider” is straightforward blues-meets-rock instrumental that ambles along like a contemporary Dylan track on crystal meth. Landreth revs the tune up around three minutes in, putting it into overdrive at times. And unlike on “Gone Pecan”, the guitarist refines the Zydeco for one of the record’s highlights, the murky and groovy but oddly titled “U.S.S. Zydecoldsmobile”. Another great moment comes during the slow, sultry “Wind in Denver”, which fits Landreth’s strengths to a tee. Resembling a dirty Delta blues tune that’s been cleaned and buffered around the edges, the band nails the song perfectly. Landreth works the song into basically his own with stellar solos.

“All About You” tames things down again with some of the bottleneck accents on rather ordinary riffs by the musician’s standards. The closing “Congo Square” provides a great amount of work, even more than the previous psychedelic rocker “Pedal to Metal”. “Congo Square” begins with a soulful backbeat, before venturing into an infectious instrumental that takes its time getting off the ground, sort of like a cross between Beck and Mark Knopfler. Unfortunately the length of the song makes for needless instrumental moments, especially a brief but tiresome drum solo. Nonetheless Landreth manages to keep it flowing for a send-off that makes you hope we won’t have to wait so long for another live recording.

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