Sonny Landreth,
Grant Street
(Sugar Hill, 2005)

Over the course of eight previous albums and countless session gigs, including playing in John Hiatt's backup band, Sonny Landreth has established himself as a guitarist's guitarist and perhaps the pre-eminent practitioner of the style of playing known as Louisiana slide guitar. If for no other reason than that this is Landreth's first live album, Grant Street would be cause for celebration among guitar enthusiasts.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it caused to the Gulf coast, this recording of an especially hot performance at a Lafayette, La., dancehall takes on added poignancy. The disc packaging is especially well done with great photography and a booklet in which Landreth describes the project and includes a reproduction of a hand-written setlist of the songs on this CD.

Landreth's studio work has always been impeccable and he has a great track record as a songwriter, but it is in live performance that the sheer mastery of his guitar becomes evident. The full sound he achieves accompanied only by David Ranson on bass and Kenneth Blevins on drums is similarly remarkable. Landreth describes in the liner notes his desire to achieve "a true audio snapshot of the set that has evolved night after night ... to capture the raw power of our trio."

Landreth has played the Grant Street Dancehall on a regular basis since 1980. For this album, Landreth recorded two nights' sets and picked the best tunes. To say this record rocks doesn't begin to cover the sizzling hot slide guitar work that blows the doors off from beginning to end, with the bassist and drummer synchronized as if all three musicians were connected to the same central nervous system.

In addition to select gems from the length of Landreth's career, Grant Street also offers up three new songs. "Native Stepson" opens the record with Landreth's trademark guitar sound, which is instantly recognizable and serves as a jumping off point as Landreth launches into blistering solos, serving notice that it's time to strap in because this is going to be one wild ride of a CD. "Broken Hearted Road" is a little slower and bluesier but with plenty more hot guitar leads. "Gone Pecan" is from Landreth's last studio album and is another up-tempo romp in which Landreth does not hold back the guitar firepower. "Port of Calling" is a new song that starts with a trademark Landreth riff then erupts into one tasty lead line after another.

The above fairly describes every track on Grant Street. This record needs to be played loud on a good sound system for maximum effect. Toward the end of the set, Landreth somehow finds a way to ratchet the energy level up yet another notch on a new song, "Pedal to the Metal," aptly named as he positively plays like his guitar is on fire. The set ender is a tour de force extended version of "Congo Square" that stretches out to a full 10 minutes and 39 seconds of pure electric slide guitar bliss. This is a killer definitive version of a Landreth staple that includes a long solo section when one minute you think he's playing everything he knows, and the next you realize he's only scratching the surface. The guitar work is so blazing hot that the first time I heard it, I was compelled to sit in the car at my destination blasting the track until it came to an end. It doesn't get any better than this.

by William Kates
31 March 2007

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