Sonny Landreth: Bound By The Blues

Mississippi slide ace returns to blues-trio format and gives it his latest transfusion.

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Sonny Landreth announces his return to the blues in no uncertain fashion. Walkin’ Blues, track one of his assertive new release, starts out with his rock-solid, distinctive slide, and a knowing opening lyric of ‘woke up this morning…’

The entertaining irony, undoubtedly not lost on the native of Mississippi, is that while there are blues veins running through his entire resumé, with collaborations stretching from Mayall to Clapton and beyond, he has in truth never been bound by the blues.

In almost 35 years since his Blues Attack debut, he has wandered far and wide as a musical traveller, blurring the state lines between blues, classic and southern rock and dropping country and zydeco flavours into the pot at regular intervals. Hell, he even went orchestral last time out, with 2012’s Elemental Journey./o:p

He’s at the old mixology game again here. No sooner has that opening track made the statement of his “formal” return to the genre than he’s bending the rules and the notes again, and delightfully so. The title track has him embellishing the canvas with the sonic texturing that only a masterful player could pull off convincingly. What results is a depth of field that’s a recurring feature in his catalogue.

Admirers will appreciate Landreth’s resumption of the basic trio format and tight, lean song constructions that rarely stretch far beyond four minutes, but always make room for his easy-flowing improvisations. That’s whether he’s singing and playing on new pieces like The High Side, toting his slide like a buzzsaw on the instrumental Firebird Blues or putting his mark on a solid-gold classic.

Now that it’s 75 years on from Tampa Red’s landmark interpretation, It Hurts Me Too might seem too well-worn to encourage much further redecoration, and Robert Johnson’s Dust My Broom all the more so, but he takes ownership of both. The former bubbles with energy, the latter with a choppy texture and almost marching tempo.

Some might see Key To The Highway, his trip back to another WWII-era set text, as a classic too far, but then he fires up that slide again and you’d feel rude to refuse it. The band stretch out a little more this time, with a longer solo, but throughout the album there’s a unifying sense of tasteful temperance that’s never dull.

His vocals may not be vintage leading-man stuff, but they have charisma and easy-flowing liquidity that simply fits his format. It’s also no surprise to learn that Landreth and his band have been road-testing this material for a while, discovering the nooks and crannies that give his work such vitality.

The album concludes with the high-octane Simcoe Street, with such live energy that you almost picture Landreth and the guys loading out after this invigorating set, picking up their instruments and heading for the next town. Whichever one it is, they’ll be welcome./o:p

Paul Sexton

Prog Magazine contributor Paul Sexton is a London-based journalist, broadcaster and author who started writing for the national UK music press while still at school in 1977. He has written for all of the British quality press, most regularly for The Times and Sunday Times, as well as for Radio Times, Billboard, Music Week and many others. Sexton has made countless documentaries and shows for BBC Radio 2 and inflight programming for such airlines as Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific. He contributes to Universal's uDiscoverMusic site and has compiled numerous sleeve notes for the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and other major artists. He is the author of Prince: A Portrait of the Artist in Memories & Memorabilia and, in rare moments away from music, supports his local Sutton United FC and, inexplicably, Crewe Alexandra FC.