Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dan Kandel talks about Sonny Landreth who headlines the free concert at Mountain Park this Saturday

As a guitarist - I find it difficult to be surprised by the skill or style of very few players these days. There is such an abundance of active iconic guitarists such as Pat Metheny, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Richard Thompson, etc. etc. who have been gigging for decades-all remain masters of their genre-all are consistently great-but this lends itself to certain degree of predictability. In the last decade there have been only two players who have completely transfixed me- most recently- 28 year old Vieux Farka Toure (who’s style I won’t even attempt to describe) & for several years- Sonny Landreth -a guitarist some 30 years older - who has somehow entirely eluded being recognized for his technical wizardry after nearly three decades of playing (until Eric Clapton invited him to play his Crossroads festival 5 years ago - creating a near overnight sensation.)

Sonny’s style is a virtuosic and venomous combination of slide guitar, fret-board tapping and flawless finger picking - all played with a head cutting assault - suggesting the timbre and tone of some type of extraterrestrial Hydra comprised of Duane Allman, Steve Vai & Rory Gallagher. Landreth’s ambitions within the Blues are as visionary as Sun Ra’s were to Jazz - his sounds are the groans of an artist fueled by urgency to go beyond both genre & instrument and rigorously pursue some kind inexplicable cosmic quest for sounds somewhere in the ether.

Last year’s performance at the Iron Horse was nothing short of brilliant to watch. The set was a mixed bag of straight ahead Blues, bayou injected Country Rock and - dare I say it- Jazz fusion - as only Sonny Landreth could have presented it. Not unlike Adrian Belew (also returning this Fall), Sonny is both visual & visceral in performance. Which is perhaps why he has remained under the radar for so long…some artist’s are just meant to be on a stage and not in a studio & one can hear there reticence when recorded ( jazz great Bill Evan’s comes to mind.) Perhaps that is why he has only released 9 recordings in his lengthy career (although his recent endeavors have included the likes of not only Clapton but also the unrivalled master of guitar tone: Robben Ford).

One can expect nothing short of the equivalent of a Master Class on guitar technique from Sonny upon his welcome return to the Valley and a rare opportunity to see; "probably the most underestimated musician on the planet and also probably one of the most advanced” (Eric Clapton).

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