Review by Bokonon
Photographs by Ed Conway
Charlie Christian. Les Paul. Jimi Hendrix. Eddie Van Halen. Sonny Landreth. The mathematical problem with this series is that few listeners have heard of Sonny Landreth, while even non-guitar-geeks are aware of the historical significance of Charlie Christian and Les Paul. But Landreth has taken the electric guitar on a similar leap forward, forging a singular slide-based style that leaves the likes of Eric Clapton with their mouths hanging open.
Landreth’s ridiculous chops were on full view recently at Hudson’S Club Helsinki, where he used all seventeen fingers to make his instrument squeal like a pig, sing like a bird and do the shimmy like my sister Kate. Naked. Holding a banana.
Really, he’s that good.
Truly, some of the new material from his first all-instrumental album, “Elemental Journey,” is a little too intellectual. Some it veers towards technique-for-technique’s sake in a way that Landreth has rarely done before. But much of its still reeks of the bayou, with good stink on the frets, on the bottleneck and on the louder-than-god pickups.
Tunes like “Heavy Heart Rising” and “Reckless Beauty” were full of shred in Hudson, backed by the ferocious rhythm team of drummer Brian Brignac and longtime Landreth sidekick Dave Ranson on bass guitar.
Fellow six-string ace Dick Dale once complained that you can’t play bass with your fingers because you’ll get a powdery sound. Ranson uses a pick and there is no powder to be found.
Landreth did wrap his squirrelly south Louisiana nodes around some vocal numbers, too, including a furious take of the post-Katrina hellraiser “Blue Tarp Blues” and his early classic “Back to Bayou Teche.”
The real surprise, though, was opener Jim Keller. Yes, he sang the Tommy Tutone hit “867-5309/Jenny,” but the real story was found in material from his sophomore solo album, “Soul Candy.” Without ever losing sight of his own identity, Keller called up aural images of Willy DeVille, Alejandro Escovedo, Dan Penn and Landreth’s old boss, John Hiatt. Magic, baby, magic.