The Grammy winning guitarist banks on the blues (and provides ample residuals in return)
Artist: Sonny Landreth
Album: Blacktop Run
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
It’s a funny thing about music. Certain styles can become cliched when they stick to a strict template and there’s nothing done that adds innovation or invention.
The blues are no different from any other musical motif, be it jazz, folk, bluegrass, or, for that matter, strict rock and roll. However in all honesty, blues may be most susceptible to recurring redundancy, given that those that try hardest sometimes sound like they’re merely repeating the tried and true.
That’s not a criticism of the genre, but rather a comment on those who insist on retreading the same riffs, repeating familiar phrasings and doubling down on the same ideas and intentions. Truth be told, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and their kindred spirits — whether from the fertile fields of Mississippi, the Delta region of Louisiana or the urban environs of Chicago — laid down the blueprint decades before and it’s never been bettered since. That should be a lesson to anyone who merely imitates the masters. Find your own signature sound, add an element of individuality and don’t try to merely copy sounds that came before.
Sonny Landreth knows the truth of that tack all too well, given the fact that he’s received two Grammy nominations and back-to-back Blues Music Awards for Best Guitarist and Best Blues Album. Although his career was originally spawned from zydeco, his superior slide guitar gave him a natural affinity for the blues. Out of that commonality he developed a unique approach that embraced both genres while earning him the nickname “the King of Slydeco.” His cajun roots still allow for an indelible impression, but Landreth is far too talented to be confined to any particular pastiche.
There’s ample evidence of that in his ongoing series of solo albums, but it’s his latest, Blacktop Run, that expresses that fact most clearly and consistently. There’s no doubt as to where his roots reside, but on songs such as the title track, “Something Grand” and “The Wilds of Wonder,” he adds tones and textures that underscore more melodic intents, allowing the song, and not the style, to dominate the proceedings. Even the ample instrumentals — “Lover Dance With Me,” “Groovy Goddess,” “Beyond Borders,” and “Many Worlds” — are as expressive as the titles imply, each dynamically delivered and flush with the emphatic sound of blustery slide guitar. Even sans a singer, these tracks are as demonstrative as any other effort.
Here too, Landreth avoids the familiar pitfalls that other accredited instrumentalists often fall prey too. He’s not necessarily prone to simply show off his chops and dazzle his devotees. Practically every lick he plays remains in service to the song. That allows each offering to significantly stand out as more than simply a showcase for Landreth’s flash and finesse. Rather, it makes for an experience that entices the listener to return to it repeatedly, not because they’re awestruck by the pyrotechnics, but rather because each offering is so alluring. That then proves the point — familiarity may not be enough of a lure, especially when craft and creativity can be fused in service to the song.