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Published: 2003/04/26
by Mike Greenhaus

The Road We’re On – Sonny Landreth

Sugar Hill Records 3964
Modern blues is a strange beast. Over the past fifty years, so many creative
players have conquered the genre that it takes a unique sound to make a
Southern-bred guitarist stand out in a sea of aspiring blues rockers.
Three decades ago, Sonny Landreth made his mark on the modern blues for two
reasons: his Southern-blues sound, layered with elements of Zydeco and
Cajun; and his distinct slide-guitar sound, which included ferocious
movements on the fret board. Sonny’s sound is uptempo and almost Allman
Brothers-esque, a series of slide guitar scales that run through
Memphis-style blues, Southern pub rock and roll, finger picking, and high
piercing notes.
With a tight backing group that consists of bassist Dave Ranson and drummer
Brian Nrignac, Sonny lets his sloppy blues loose, recording almost all his
songs live in the studio and leaving ample room for solos and slide
virtuosity. "Hell at Home," is a raucous blues-rocker that could fit in
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s catalogue, while "All About You" erupts in a solid "La
Grange" groove. Perhaps what makes Sonny’s sound so welcoming is its
familiarity, though the guitarist has clearly figured out a way to lead his
own groove.
"Gone Pecan" has a "Jessica"-esque roll to it and jumps between guitar and
swinging drums. On "A World Away", a slow blues waltz is augmented by Steve
Conn’s organ, adding depth to the track and proving a solid base for Sonny
to take his solos. The steel-guitar opening of "Natural Word" tricks
listeners into thinking they’re about to encounter 1950s style boogie-woogie
before it erupts into a sea of hard rock licks. With these opposite noises
so seamlessly blended together Sonny’s sound is fully realized: he carries
the torch of blues-rock into an age of where even Beck isn’t ashamed to show
off his blues background.
Though The Road We’re On’s studio format creates a clear sound, it is
also somewhat restricting. As Sonny strolls through his songs, one can’t
help but wonder about his capabilities if had some space to wander. With
only a few minutes to work with, Sonny’s sound occasionally falls into
energetically standard bar blues-rock, with his vocals cutting off his
engaging groove. The gospelish "Fallin For You" could have been found on a
Gregg Allman solo disc and "All About You" could get lost next to records by
Charlie Daniels and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Great blues singers have also been known to have great lyrics, often about
love, loss, and life on the road. As the album’s title suggests, much of
The Road We’re On deals with travel and approaching the promised
land. The album’s title track is often trite, discussing themes of freedom,
reflections, and – of course – the road. Similarly, "Gemini Blues" and
"Fallin’ For You" fit the blues-rock blueprint a bit too perfectly, with a
call and response format that’s been unoriginal for many years.
Yet, something about Sonny’s hefty, yet distinctly soft, Southern voice,
makes the album more authentic. Sonny doesn’t try to rip off BB King.
Instead, he plays sunny afternoon sounds that have become an important part
of Americana. His Cajun and Zydeco eclecticism makes his disc a rock and
roll revue. So, while "The Road We’re On" isn’t the most original blues
collection ever pressed on CD, it is worth a few spins on a sunny afternoon.

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