Blues fans have a particular abundance of riches to sort through. Slide-guitar monster Sonny Landreth releases "Grant Street" (Sugar Hill), his first live album. It's an iridescent 11-song collection, recorded at the Grant Street Dancehall in Landreth's hometown of Lafayette, LA. The tunes span the guitarist's career, and the album is a riveting display of his versatility. Landreth plays with uncommon ferocity on "Blues Attack" and "U.S.S. Zydecoldsmobile" and lays back in a king-sized pocket on "Broken Hearted Road."
Sonny Landreth's slide guitar has the sly expression of a human voice.
In his slippery runs up and down the fret board, Landreth evokes the sound of growls, giggles, leers, confessions and cries - the perfect range of sounds for the blues, his chosen genre.
You can hear the veteran ax man capture all those emotions on his latest, a live album. It features Landreth's three-man power trio playing a club he has periodically popped into since the start of his career in the 1970s.
In the cut "Z. Rider," Landreth rips through the riffs with a serrated edge. In "All About You," he struts with a boogie-woogie swagger, while in "Native Stepson," he shows off his sensitive side.
Landreth has played with many musicians over the years, from Clifton Chenier to John Hiatt. But his own albums offer the best showcase for his forceful singing - and for guitar work so evocative it could front any record by itself.
Despite an occasional tendency to ramble and overly extend some songs, Sonny Landreth fulfills his reputation as a slide king on Grant Street (Sugar Hill). Some of that comes from the trio setting. With bassist David Ranson and drummer Kenneth Blevins content to establish frenetic, spacey backgrounds and foundations, Landreth is free to craft and develop lengthy solos that contain the expected flourishes, as well as some unexpected lighter and softer moments. The live date includes a couple of spectacular numbers, the concluding “Congo Square” plus “Blues Attack” and “Pedal To Metal.” Landreth is an energetic vocalist, but not an especially compelling one, so his moments delivering lyrics are just bridges to the guitar fireworks. He includes a nod to his heritage in “U.S.S. Zydecoldsmobile” and dips into the loping swamp groove on several occasions, but Grant Street is predominantly high intensity rocking blues.
Nobody plays quite like Sonny Landreth. That is both a compliment and a statement of fact. You see, the Louisiana blues guitarist is gifted with the ability to finger the fretboard while playing slide -- a distinctively unorthodox approach that has made him a first-call sideman for everyone from John Hiatt to Gov't Mule. Where Landreth really shines, though, is onstage and on his own -- which makes his new live disc Grant Street his purest and most dynamic release to date. Recorded over two nights at a club in his stomping grounds, this 11-song set simultaneously spotlights Landreth's staggering technical skill and his swampy authenticity (not to mention the funky power and precision of his rough-and-ready rhythm section). "Enjoy the show," Landreth sings on the Cajun rocker U.S.S. Zydecoldsmobile. Consider it done. ***1/2
"Grant Street," Sonny Landreth (Sugar Hill)
Anyone who has ever seen Sonny Landreth perform live can attest that he is a guitar hero for the new millennium. The Louisiana-raised slide-guitar virtuoso draws joyous wails and yelps from his ax with nonchalant grace.
For years, he has been the hired-gun ax-man of choice for the hardy few acts who weren't afraid they would be outshined by Landreth's blistering notes. His team-ups with singer-songwriter John Hiatt have resulted in Hiatt's strongest albums and most exciting concerts. And Eric Clapton has called Landreth "probably the most underestimated musician on the planet and also probably one of the most advanced."
But rather than being simply a great technician, Landreth has a personable style. His original songs are Cajun-flavored, simple and straightforward.
"Grant Street," recorded at a club in Landreth's hometown of Lafayette, La., is the guitarist's first live disc and one of his best efforts overall.
Fronting a power trio with bassist David Ranson and drummer Kenneth Blevins, Landreth kicks things off with "Native Stepson," the instrumental smoker that highlighted his 1995 album "South of I-10." Sonic dominance established, Landreth and the band deliver 10 more songs that include both relaxed rides and all-out rockers.
As a vocalist, Landreth is a good example of a guy who makes the best of what he has. Tranquil and with a limited range, Landreth's singing is a contrast to his seemingly unlimited and exciting work on guitar. It's a good match on the songs "Congo Square," "Gone Pecan" and "All About You." But it's when Landreth concentrates solely on the instrumental work that he astounds - his masterful and even delicate manipulation of distortion on "Congo Square" and his rapid-fire fingerwork on "Pedal to the Metal" are great examples.
Sonically, "Grant Street" would benefit from a brighter sound. It seems as if Landreth and co-producers R.S. Field and Tony Daigle had to compress the recording to keep it from giving the VU meters a meltdown.
Still, "Grant Street" is a great document of one of guitar's best exponents.