I have a new guitar hero. (At age 44, yet. Oy.)
As a lad, I idolized Eric Clapton then Phil Manzanera, John McLaughlin, Frank Zappa, then I got into other kinds of music where the Guitar Solo wasn't the dominant thang. Yet, along with fine piano, saxophone and violin playing, Amazing Guitar Players still occupy a Place In My Heart. However, there aren't too many that really get to me like they used to, as far too many guitarists substitute gee-whiz, looka-me TECHNIQUE for genuine invention and feeling. Enter Sonny Landreth.
Louisiana guitarist Sonny Landreth paid his dues with John Hiatt, Michael Doucet, Junior Wells and Clifton Chenier before striking out on his own. His specialty is slide guitar, but with a difference: along with the use of the slide he nimbly fingers the fretboard while sliding, giving his sound heft and tangy complexity. Landreth plays Louisiana-style blues, a rhythmically loose, somewhat eclectic style of Southern blues that includes influences of Cajun sounds, Southern R&B/soul and pop. He performed a two-night stand at Fitzgerald's in the burbs of Chicago, touring behind his latest platter, the rather excellent The Road We're On(Sugar Hill Records).
On the Saturday night after Valium Times Day, Landreth played to a wall-to-wall full, most enthusiastic house. At first, he looks the unlikely guitar hero dressed plainly, tall, gaunt and with non-shaggy shoulder length hair and wire-framed glasses, he looks more like a junior partner at an ad firm. But unlike advertising, it's not the package, it's what's inside, and for over 90 minutes Landreth held the crowd in thrall like they usta say in Show Biz, he had them eating out of his hand. And no wonder, as he doled out serving after serving of meaty, Cajun-spiced rockin' blues. His playing literally sizzled, and was thankfully free of the visual mugging and ego-driven posturing many guitarists fall prey to. His solos generated excitement, yet not outstay their welcome (i.e., no noodling-doodling/water-treading). Voice-wise, he has an uncharacteristic near-croon that recalls a smoother Lowell George or a deeper Robert Cray. His bass and drums accompanists were solidly in the pocket, supporting Landreth's lead with a powerful, punchy near-primal wallop. Anyone who thinks modern blues guitar is all 12-bar-structure, my-baby-done-left-me old-time formula scrawl had best listen to this Sonny Landreth fellow.