CD review by Roger-Z (3/24/05)
It took me a while to figure this record out. I expected a classic blues album but instead got classic rock. I should have known better. Although Westchester, NY slide guitar virtuoso Geoff Hartwell constantly raves about Sonny Landreth, I'd only heard one track from "Hound Dog Taylor: A Tribute" on Alligator Records. "Taylor's Rock" leaped off the album and immediately riveted me with its shimmering guitar tones and unusual major scale melody. Not your father's blues!
"Grant Street" brings me back to one of my favorite Sixties albums -- "Happy Trails" by psychedelic mainstay Quicksilver Messenger Service. Side one of that record consisted of a suite of tunes all based on Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love." In the same fashion, the entire "Grant Street" appears cut from the same fabric. Recorded live as a trio in April 2004 at Sonny's favorite watering hole, Grant Street, in Lafayette, Louisiana, the CD features longtime cohorts David Ranson on bass and Kenneth Blevins on drums. The whole album reeks of a curious mixture of zydeco, swamp rock, and a dash of blues -- oiled by a low down serpentine beat. Picture Little Feat meeting Creedence and then marrying ZZ Top.
Like a steamroller that tamps down smoldering tar, this music will inexorably turn you into a Sonny Landreth fan. He has developed a completely unique method of playing slide guitar that involves right hand finger picking and left hand fretting behind the glass slide (which he wears on his pinky). Instead of the molten single line melodies associated with such artists as Duane Allman and David Lindley, Sonny Landreth cooks up a swirling gumbo of double stops, single lines, and chord chunks.
A gifted writer with a smokey voice, Mr. Landreth wrote and sang all of the tracks. Top picks include "Broken Hearted Road" which begins with a bass line that ominously mimics a thumping heart; the thundering "Blues Attack;" "U.S.S. Zydecoldsmobile" in which Landreth tips his hat to past employer Clifton Chenier; the Stevie Ray influenced "All About You;" the fiddle-like "Pedal to Medal;" and the chugging album closer, "Congo Square" which features sounds you never thought would come out of a slide guitar.
Tight does not adequately describe the intensity and interplay between these musicians. That comes from the years they spent on the road doing their own thing as well as backing master songwriter John Hiatt as "The Goners." Sonny Landreth belongs to that elite group of musicians whom you can instantly identify after hearing just one lick.