Provogue [Release date: 30.06.17]
Not so much a live career résumé – there’s no ‘Speak Of The Devil’ or ‘Congo Square’ – Sonny Landreth’s ‘Recorded Live In Lafayette’ is more of a dip into a re-invigorated past and a tip of the hat to his Louisiana roots, as he subtly meanders between Zydeco, blues and fusion.
From the richly percussive opening of ‘Blues Attack’, culled from the dawn of his career in 1981, to the bristling guitar and accordion work out on the closing ‘The One & Only Truth’, Landreth’s fine band gives him plenty of options on a 16 track double live album.
The band features Dave Conn on accordion, Dave Ranson on ukulele bass, Brian Brignac on cajón, and Sam Broussard on acoustic guitar, and together with Landreth’s majestic guitar parts, they move eloquently through a number of interlinked rootsy styles.
Landreth is a guitarist with an unique tone and a stylistic diversity that moves effortlessly from warm slide to piercing notes, in a mellifluous playing style that always emphasizes flow.
He’s also got a warm, lived-in and expressive close-to-the-mic vocal that he aligns with expressive guitar lines to draw the listener into lyrical meaning.
It also helps the album move from the opening unplugged set to full band mode, almost as if the whole evening has been built layer by layer.
The clever use of dynamics permeates his solos and sometimes builds a tension within the song. This is the case on the outstanding ‘The U.S.S. Zydecoldsmobile’, before he breaks the spell with a final note flurry to receive a fine reception from the crowd.
He’s equally adept at picking and tapping as he is on slide guitar and thrillingly combines the techniques on ‘Hell At Home’. He also explores a feather light acoustic touch on ‘The Highside’, which again draws us in via some opening acoustic picking and a mesmerising rich toned slide solo and a catchy hook.
The key to everything is the array of musical and cultural diversity that mirrors his Louisiana up bringing, while allowing him to discover different contexts for his incendiary chops.
This is especially so on the full band workout of ‘Back To Bayou Teche’. The reprised gem from his 1992′s ‘Outward Bound’ album brings yelps of recognition from his older fans. He sets about reconstructing it with a quivering tone that is the cornerstone to an enveloping track. His excellent vocal phrasing comes with a clarity of diction that leads us to a sing-along hook, before his intricate guitar work takes things up another level.
Landreth is smart enough to leave plenty of space for his band within concise arrangements such as the subtly nuanced ‘Bound By the Blues’, again delivered with an expressive vocal.
If his raison d’etre is to find new ways to voice his songs, then he successfully does so by drawing on myriad of influences with which to explore colourful textures and lyrical depth.
On ‘True Blue’, from 2003′s ‘The Road We’re On’, he adds slight echo and delay to his pristine guitar notes. This is cleverly offset by a noticeably tougher vocal, on a more straight forward blues with plenty of undulating swing that is well suited to his laid back style
In sharp contrast he’s more angular with a dirtier tone on the drum tight ‘The Milky Way Home’, while ‘Brave New Girl’ from the instrumental ‘Elemental Journey’ album, is the closest he gets to Eric Johnson style fusion, over Dave Ranson’s gently plucked bass.
It’s one of those defining moments when the band takes off into the stars on another musical departure. Landreth adds chiming notes to give the album a refreshingly melodic lift.
They segue into the feverish up tempo instrumental ‘Überesso’, on which he shreds on a piece that works hard to find a resolution. Some magisterial band interplay ensures they receive deserved recognition from the crowd
And if ‘Soul Salvation’ sounds slightly pedestrian after the tightly knit workout that has gone before, the band quickly redresses the balance with a re-energised version of ‘Walking Blues’. Sonny adds an edgier tone, which is his way of telling us that he’s going to rock out. His spiralling, piercing mid-number solo leads to an unexpected organ solo, as the band locks into a big groove, topped by a perfect slide led finale.
The band attacks the song with real purpose, as the set moves towards a climactic Cajun conclusion on a perfectly nuanced finish to a double live album full of rich reward. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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