Provogue Records [Release date 21.02.20]
‘Blacktop Run’ is a guitar album with a difference. It’s full of full of subtle tones, textures, lovely grooves, pulsing riffs and imaginative solos, tempered by startling stylistic diversity.
It’s an album sparked by some fine band interplay and intricate guitar lines, but despite the opening panoramic title track has to work hard to shoehorn the different genres into a coherent whole.
The fact that Sonny Landreth manages to do so is down to his own fluid playing style and an exquisite range of tones, aligned with several moments when his beguiling vocal style draws us into a mix of narratives and vignettes.
It’s an album shot through with his Louisiana roots – his moniker of ‘King of Slydeco’ is well merited – but his adventurous spirit takes him on an exploratory musical road trip.
He opens with the Eastern toned resonator driven Americana title track, where he’s: “Chasing the light, on a steady roll with my shadows in tow.”
He threads his sumptuous tone into the fabric of the funky instrumental groove ‘Lover Dance With Me’ and provides more contrast on the down-home percussive feel of the dobro and accordion-led ‘Don’t Ask Me’, before settling into the beautifully sculpted acoustic and slide instrumental ‘Many Worlds’.
His evocative playing illuminates everything and brings coherence and balance to an album that includes 4 instrumentals, and is probably a couple of strong songs short of offering him convincing crossover appeal.
The album’s principal aim is to find a meaningful context for his exquisite guitar playing on a musical journey that inexorably flows into the sublime ‘Something Grand’, which rounds off the album with some Jackson Brown style introspection.
The latter track is all about feel and it’s held together by an acoustic wash with a subtle organ line, shuffled brush strokes and Landreth’s best vocal, as his tonality and perfect diction draws us into the lyrics: “Let a tender mercy become something grand.”
Whatever the meaning of the song, there’s something magical about the perfect combination of voice and instrumentation.
‘Blacktop Run’ also successfully crosses the tricky divide between concise story telling and exhilarating instrumental spontaneity, with Landreth being the prefect conduit with his range of weighty tones and a lightness of touch.
There’s some inspired band interplay on the sparkling instrumental ‘Groovy Goodness’’, which is predicated on David Ranson’s galloping bass line with lashing of feverish slide and organ as part of an imposing wall of sound.
In sharp contrast, Steve Conn’s ‘Somebody Gotta Make A Move’, is a roots rock ballad relationship song of real substance. The mid tempo rhythm and keyboard embellishments evoke the edgy break up lyrics, while Landreth’s coruscating slide further emphasises the angst of the narrator.
Conn also contributes the percussive and upbeat Latino inflected instrumental ‘Beyond Borders’. It almost sounds as if it’s from a different session, but it’s another thrilling exposition of Landreth’s tremulous tone delivered over a percolating rhythm section.
The Zydeco influenced ‘Mule’ is less memorable, save for the meeting of accordion and guitar, while his eco friendly ‘The Wilds of Wonder’ employs the same expansive sound to be found on the cinematic opening track.
The final instrumental ‘Many Worlds’ is an exquisitely piece on which he applies his slide in the manner of a painter’s brush stroke on a canvas.
His combination of long linear lines and sultry rhythms has a magical subliminal quality that reconnects us to everything that has gone before on the album. The slide and acoustic double lines tap into different sensibilities, moods and emotions and glue everything together into something that mirrors the album title itself, ‘Something Grand’. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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