Sonny Landreth – Blacktop Run
CD: 10 Songs, 36 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs
“You’ll know it’s Sonny Landreth when you hear him. He has a unique style.” Truer words were never spoken, whether by Ms. Wetnight or her father, in this case. “Mr. Slydeco,” the favorite slide guitarist of “Mr. Slowhand,” returns with a roaring vengeance on his fourteenth overall album and third on the Provogue label. In only thirty-six minutes, he traverses territory broader than the entire globe. Landreth’s music has always been about the journey, not the destination (hooks, choruses, all the bells and whistles that turn songs into hit songs). He’s reached stardom not by studio script or digital algorithm, but the true hard way: grueling effort. His blood, sweat and tears pour through every track, nary a note wasted or overused. Blacktop Run is not for you if you’re looking for ten-minute solos a la Jimi Hendrix or Duane Allman. That’s not how Sonny rolls. He plays what the very core of his being needs to play, then rests content.
The Louisiana artist’s latest compilation of ten original compositions stretches from hard-edged electric forays to wistful acoustic ballads. The project’s range is the fruit of a renewed collaboration. Producer RS Field – who helmed Sonny’s trio of breakout albums – joined six-stringer and co-producer Tony Daigle to finish the record. Boon companions on Landreth’s odyssey are bassist David Ranson, drummer Brian Brignac and keyboardist/songwriter Steve Conn.
“His brilliance and creative energy recharged us,” Landreth said of reuniting with Field. Most of the tracks were recorded live at Dockside Studios on the Vermilion River south of Lafayette, LA. “We came up with new and better ideas, and that’s what you want. It couldn’t have gone better.”
Forget all the chirpy tunes about hope, faith, and the power of positivity. The title track is the one single song 2020 needs. Paradoxically, it speaks to the one thing that endures forever: change. The world’s been stuck in quarantine for more than sixteen weeks. What better way to lift your mood than to travel with Sonny on his Blacktop Run? With a gorgeous dobro intro and carefree spirit, Landreth expresses our current wish, whether silent or spoken out loud: “Between the life I left and the edge of Next, I’m headed down the road.”
On the opposite end of the album lies “Something Grand,” which moved me to tears. It’s a tale of forgiveness, the healing that occurs when “tender mercy becomes something grand.” What of mistakes that can’t be undone, wounds that turn to scars instead of scabs that fall off without a trace? Sonny knows that “some broken things were already bound to fall. Grace yields to gravity, and you can’t catch them all.” Nevertheless, his plea stands. All of us could use tender mercy in our current condition.
By far and away, the best track lies “Beyond Borders,” right in the middle. Bringing to mind a NASCAR racer, a dancer experiencing a physical and performative breakthrough, and a fugitive running out of time and sanity, this complex, nuanced instrumental is a legal dose of crystal meth. It’s how writers and poets describe sex. It’s a ritual, whether divine or profane. Imagine what you will, but it’s that good. I’d listen to it for four years, not four minutes.
I used to think Sonny Landreth the Shakespeare of slide guitar. Not anymore. He’s the Homer. As author Donna Tartt says in The Secret History, “For if the modern…is whimsical and discursive,” as the Bard could often be, “the classical…is narrow, unhesitating, relentless.” Blacktop Run? Classic and classical.