"A bona fide guitar hero"
"He is probably the most underestimated musician on the planet
and also probably one of the most advanced."
Sonny Landreth's ninth album, is the first to be
released on his own Landfall label. On
it, the Louisiana-based slide-guitar wizard does something
unprecedented in his body of work, as he collaborates
with five of the greatest guitar players on the planet - Eric
Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Robben Ford, Eric
Johnson and Vince Gill - In some jaw-dropping
performances. Also making a house call is the legendary
New Orleans pianist and singer Dr. John and
iconic troubadour Jimmy Buffett.
On the opener "Blue
Tarp Blues," Sonny
trades solos with Knopfler, and the aural
contrast between Sonny's
shimmering slide and the Dire Straits leaders' biting
Strat is a textural treat. Clapton appears
to cut loose on the following "When
I Still Had You," adding
his soulful voice to the choruses as well. Slowhand then
Of Worry", a spooky
slow blues reminiscent of his Bluesbreakers era.
Milky Way Home" is
a powerful instrumental rocker that features Eric
Johnson on delectably distorted guitar passages that morph
into his trademark cello-like sound. "The
Goin’ On" shifts
into a country-rock groove, with Vince
Sonny alternating between guitar solos and lead vocals. Robben
Ford brings his soulful tone and phrasing to "Way
Past Long" and "Blue
Angel" (the latter with
Gill on backing vocals), as Landreth swaps his trusty Strat
for a Les Paul.
Each of these performances is an extraordinary
showcase of brilliant players reacting to each
other in supremely inspired fashion.
"I've wanted to make this kind of record for
a long time - to do an entire album that would feature
my favorite players as special guests," says Landreth,
who's as articulate as he is virtuosic. "And
these years, I've gotten to become friends with them,
so that addressed the question of, who do you ask?
Every one of them wanted to do it, so that really fired me
"The other thing was how to do it without it being
yet another clichéd 'duets' album," he
continues. "Then I
got the idea to write the songs specifically for each of
the artists and that was the real hook for me, as a
writer as well as a guitar player. I grew up listening to
Eric and Mark, and these other players have
influenced me along the way. Not only that, but we all came
up listening to a lot of the same music, so we
had a common ground to work with. Once someone would say
yeah, then I had to come up with songs that
were worthy of them."
Landreth spent a year writing these songs, and another year
putting the album together - a logistical feat of
some magnitude considering the fact that every one of the
principals, including Landreth, spends
considerable time on the road. The process for most of the
recording involved two stages. After Landreth
had a particular song written, he went in the studio with
his band and longtime engineer Tony
completed the basic tracks, leaving space for the guest guitarist.
Daigle then sent his mix of the song to the
player to do his part, along with a backing vocal in some
cases. (The exceptions were the tracks with Gill,
which were cut face to face in Nashville, and the one featuring
Dr. John, which was recorded in New
"I'd get back these fantastic solos, and I'd
go, "Oh my God, I’ve gotta recut mine!" Sonny
recalls with a
laugh. He's exaggerating, but he did take a second
pass at a couple of his parts.
The stereo spectrum of the mix that features Landreth on
the left and the other player on the right, a
functionally effective approach that enables the listener
to get the feeling of back-and-forth hot licks most
vividly. "We did it to tap into
the conversational aspect of it," Sonny points
out. Indeed, it probably couldn’t
have been made this way before digital technology brought
virtually unlimited flexibility to the recording
process. What matters is that it truly feels in the moment
- even if that moment was separated by time and
"That was of course the goal with these performances," Sonny
confirms. "They've gotta feel right. I was
going for the essence of what inspired me to begin with about
these fabulous musicians, and that’s what I
honed in on, I was able to go, 'This sounds like a
lick he would do,' and then write that into the arrangement.
I really wanted to make sure we captured each of their individual
voices on the guitar, and I feel like we did
In one of two delightful changes of pace to the album’s
six-string focus, Dr. John brings the requisite gris-gris
his trademark rollicking piano and harmonies; he's
joined on the track by Jimmy Buffett. "Although
the idea of the record was playing with my guitar heroes,
I wanted to be open to the unexpected as well," Sonny
written 'Howlin' Moon' a long time ago,
and I always had Dr.
John in mind for it. Then we took it a step further with
Jimmy’s vocal and the vibe was perfect."
As for the rest, "Let
It Fly," a slice
of exotica so warm that sweat drips off it, features backing
Buffett discovery Nadirah Shakoor. The title of "Uberesso," a
blistering instrumental from Landreth and his
band, was inspired by Sonny's passion for making espresso.
The album closes with the metaphysical ballad "Universe,"
as Gill adds his glorious voice to the goosebump finale.
Anchoring the grooves is Landreth's touring rhythm
section: bass player David Ranson and drummer Mike
Burch. Steve Conn, another regular,
is on keyboards. Sam
Broussard plays acoustic on "Universe” and
As for the intriguing album title, "I
thought about it a lot," says Sonny. "One
of the most interesting things to
me in the songwriting process is letting it cook and bubble
and see what comes up to the top. As I was
writing these songs, the word 'reach' kept coming
up, and 'reach' is a pretty powerful word. Aside
obvious meaning, it can refer to a body of water. And the
water imagery kept appearing as well, so it’s like
this is what came up out of this whole project for me. What
would happen if I invited all these people; where
would this take me? I literally reached out to them, and
they graciously came on board. Then there was the
impact locally of Katrina. So the title is the result of
all of the above. It’s coming from an honest place." The
same could be said of everything this one-of-a-kind artist
has done in his single-minded career.
Sonny LANDRETH - guitar, lead vocal
David RANSON - bass
Brian BRIGNAC - drums