Slide guitarist Sonny Landreth is one of the best-known secrets in blues and roots music. A well-respected session player and touring musician, Landreth has earned a significant reputation as a road warrior and high-caliber guitarslinger. However, Landreth's solo work, while almost universally acclaimed by critics, is appreciated by a loyal cult audience that appreciates the man's talents. From The Reach is Landreth's ninth solo album, and his first for his own independent Landfall Records label.
For this album, Landreth wanted to collaborate with some of the talents that he's played alongside throughout his lengthy career. To this end, he's brought in guitarists like Eric Clapton, Robben Ford, Eric Johnson, and Mark Knopfler, as well as vocalists and musicians like Dr. John, Vince Gill, Nadirah Shakoor, and even Jimmy Buffet, to contribute to the steamy musical gumbo that is From The Reach. Landreth is backed here by his childhood friend and long-time musical foil, bassist Dave Ranson, as well as drummer Michael Burch and keyboardist Steve Conn.
Sonny Landreth's From The Reach
Hailing from Louisiana, Landreth couldn't help but comment on the tragedy that is New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "Blue Tarp Blues" outlines the sad tale, the singer's strident vocals matched only by the gale-force winds of his passionate slidework, Landreth matched note-for-note by guest guitarist Mark Knopfler. The song rocks like a runaway locomotive, mixing just the right amount of venom and fire in both its lyrics and its music.
"Way Past Long" has an interesting, loping feel to its soundtrack, guitarist Robben Ford bringing a trembling quality to his playing behind Landreth's unusual vocal meter. The song's Southern roots are reinforced by a slightly funky rhythmic groove and swampy blues vibe. The breathtaking instrumental "The Milky Way Home" pits Landreth's axe against the nimble fingers and unique tone of guitarist Eric Johnson, the interplay of the two talented guitarist's instruments complimenting and challenging each other in the creation of a beautiful blend of cascading notes and fluid passages that are long on tone and elegance.
With A Little Help From My Friends
Eric Clapton lends his great tone and fretboard wizardry to the wistful lost love described by "When I Still Had You." The swamp-blues of "Storm Of Worry" especially benefits from the playful juxtaposition of Landreth's scorching slidework and Clapton's inspired and electrifying solos, the uncertainty and doubt expressed by Landreth's strong vocals lost amidst a storm of flying notes and sawtooth slide riffs.
Landreth collaborates with New Orleans musical legend Dr. John for the funky, Crescent City flavored "Howlin' Moon." Dr. John's gruff vocals and Professor Longhair-styled ivory-bashing plays well off Landreth's smooth singing style and subdued guitarwork. Keyboardist Steve Conn adds his Southern fried funk in the background, bringing another crucial element to this Bourbon Street burner.
The instrumental "Uberesso" is a wonderful showcase for Landreth's dynamic six-string abilities, the song's underlying rhythm driving like a locomotive while the guitar lays down a shred-happy performance worthy of a Joe Satriani or Steve Vai.
Country music superstar Vince Gill is underrated as a guitarist, but his significant contribution to the gently rocking "The Goin' On" will prompt those who don't know the depths of the man's talents to sit up and take notice. Landreth and Gill's vocals mix together well, as do their respective guitar styles, and the song's romantic imagery and brilliant wordplay is tailor-made for the two artists.
Gill returns for the album-closing "Universe," adding his vocals behind Landreth's in this earnest lyrical plea for peace in the universe. Landreth's soaring notes transcend the lyrics, pushing the songwriter's humble wish onto a much higher level. It's a mesmerizing moment and a fitting way to end From The Reach.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Much like the Mississippi Delta bluesmen that inspired Sonny Landreth to pick up the guitar and play his heart out, Landreth's music gets better as he ages. From The Reach is the work of a weathered, but not beaten artist with many miles under his belt, but plenty of gas left in the tank. Landreth's six-string work is spectacular, both his slide playing and conventional picking display no dearth of energy, tone, and passion.
The songs here are among the best that Landreth has written, full of soul and brilliant poetry, and the performances of the significant party guests that Landreth invited to the studio are uniformly excellent. From The Reach is by no means a traditional blues music album; in fact, only a few of the songs here hit upon familiar blues touchstones. Still, the album is definitely inspired by the Delta, Landreth bringing his trademark mix of roots-rock twang, swamp-blues atmosphere, and New Orleans energy to the grooves of From The Reach. (Landfall Records)