As the title of Sonny Landreth’s 2015 album would suggest, he is bound tightly by The Blues and has always been inspired by the music of the Mississippi Delta bluesmen. On Bound By The Blues, released on Mascot Label Group’s Provogue Records, Sonny re-invents many genuine Blues standards; giving each his own personal touch. He also has written some outstanding original tracks that solidly fit in alongside the blues benchmarks.
Landreth has long been heralded as one of the authentic masters of the bottleneck slide guitar as well as technically adept in all manner of guitar play. On Bound By The Blues he reverts back to a bare-boned blues trio approach and the outcome is both powerful and earnest. David Ranson on bass guitar and Brian Brignac on drums have been Sonny’s usual musical running mates for more than a dozen years, and both provide background vocals in addition to their tuneful world-class instrumental contributions.
“Developing a style and an approach that is your own musically is not something to be taken for granted, I’m at a point in life where I want to make the most of every moment I can and that changes your perspective, your priorities and how you relate to everyone else. And at the end of the day, I think that’s the essence of what I wanted to express with Bound By The Blues.” ~ Sonny Landreth
The opening cut, “Walkin’ Blues,” was written by the legendary Son House, one of the prime originators of the genre. It is truly a defining song for the Delta Blues. Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, The Grateful Dead, Joe Bonamassa, and scores of others have covered the tune. Sonny starts off the album in ultra-fine vocal form, and his slide guitar finesse is, as always, magnificent. The punchy marching bass line is a perfect trampoline for Landreth to add a lead reminiscent of a locomotive moving down the train tracks. Yes, it’s no lie ……. Landreth has got “the mean-old walkin’ blues.”
Robert Johnson’s upbeat “Dust My Broom,” another endlessly recorded blues chestnut, features some of Sonny’s identifiable southern-inflection coated soulful vocals with noteworthy hard-strutting guitar. Skip James’ “Cherry-Ball Blues” is superb; remindful of the adoring treatment divulged by Ry Cooder, another maestro of the slide guitar. It is a foot stomping rhythmic delight presented with rip-roarin’ grit galore by Landreth and his band.
My two favorites of the five standards included on Bound By The Blues could be a couple of tunes that have remained continual crowd pleasers for numerous years in Sonny Landreth’s live performances with Brignac and Ranson. On Tampa Red’s “It Hurts Me Too,” Sonny’s vocal is simply spot-on perfect; and his slow blues full of flair instrumentation here strikes a deep chord. No disrespect to Eric Clapton, but Landreth’s soul-drenched take is so full of sincerity that in my mind his is the definitive rendering. Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key To The Highway” never sounded better than it does here in Sonny’s hands. It’s an amalgamation of the marvelous skills shown by Clapton or Junior Wells/Buddy Guy on their editions.
As great as the blues standards are here, Landreth’s originals are equally as excellent. The title track, BBTB, features Sonny massaging an acoustic National Steel resonator guitar, sliding along like a weaving-walking drunk. His lyrics pay tribute to some bluesmen that paved the way before him and were his major influences. Examples such as “Muddy Waters on the rise in songs that get us through the times” and the chorus “Sisters and brothers, of every color, bound to one another, bound by the blues,” are enlightening to the album’s purpose.
The Mississippi-born, Louisiana-raised slide guitar guru offers up some leisurely country-blues on “The High Side.” Vivid lyrics abound with a tale of hard times on the road in the summer of ’72, maneuvering the Texas panhandle, breaking down in Wichita Falls, and having some bad dudes make off with his guitar and his vehicle equipped with a “modern” 8-track player. Sonny slippery-slides his resonator melodically along in trademark fashion while dancing the Tulsa time shuffle/stroll.
A smoky haze echoey atmosphere permeates “Where They Will.” Landreth’s musical philosophy is presented as “let the Blues take me where they will;” confident in his knowledge that trusting his blues instincts will guide him well on life’s journey. It’s a powerful song, potent as Tennessee moonshine whiskey.
Sonny Landreth has furthered his reputation for composing engaging and exciting instrumentals. Bound By The Blues has two outstanding ones. “Firebird Blues” is a slinky simmering tribute to the late, great Johnny Winter. The song is named after the Gibson guitar Winter was wielding when Landreth met him long ago. Sonny uses a guitar tone that is distorted, dirty, and raw in this slow blues that recalls the days when Johnny Winter was straddling the borderline that separates the blues from rock and roll.
The album closes with a well-crafted upbeat instrumental entitled “Simcoe Street.” Landreth plays his heart out, giving a display of his marvelous guitar dexterity. Simcoe is the name of the street in Lafayette, Louisiana where the album was recorded and co-produced by Sonny with Tony Daigle (Electric Comoland). The production as well as the mastering of Bound By The Blues is notable.
The album cover tells a story all by itself. A black and white photograph of Landreth with his guitar is shown, with Sonny’s head and lower body cropped from the picture. Sonny’s right hand is slightly out of focus drawing the focus to his left hand on the fretboard with his bottleneck slide placed on his pinky finger. The inside photos are also meaningful, honoring some of the legends of the Blues and displaying some of Sonny’s beautiful instruments.
Bound By The Blues is a tour-de-force sensational reaffirmation of the healing power of the blues that can soothe your soul. These ten wonderfully bluesy tracks shine like a beacon that guides us Blues enthusiasts to safe harbor.
Randall Parrish is a Senior Editor at Vivascene, with extensive publishing credits at various jazz and blues sites. He is also an avid guitar player whose musical knowledge of jazz, blues and roots music is widely respected. He can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com