Sonny Landreth

slide guitar & cajun rock

South of I-10 (Zoo/Praxis)
Sonny Landreth

By Les Reynolds

Combine the best slide guitarists you can think of and you'll get Sonny Landreth. Take the latest solo release from this Mississippi-born guitar craftsman (his second with Zoo/Praxis) and you'll also come as close as possible to hearing the essence of Cajun culture.

The title track tells part of his story, even his age: "I woke up in Mississippi in '51 / Migrated next door, became a native stepson / Grew up on the rhythm of Clifton and Cleveland/And the Red Hot Louisiana Band [premier accordionist Clifton Chenier's band]." Landreth eventually settled just west of New Iberia, Louisiana, south of Lafayette and Interstate 10.

For the most part, this is a rock 'n' roll album — Louisiana or Cajun rock because of the obvious influence. The former sideman for John Mayall, John Hiatt, Kenny Loggins and Zachary Richard blends that wealth of experience with his unique style to create a memorable sound and some incredibly energetic, exciting music. There s not a weak tune on this release.

"Congo Square": a powerful (due to the drumming and percussion work), funky, rolling tune reminiscent of Mick Fleetwood' s performance on Tusk — and every bit as haunting. It s easy to feel the oppressive nighttime heat _of the Crescent City, the music pulsing from the clubs in the French Quarter, see the couples strolling by the muted street lights and hear the gentle sound of the Creole Queen pulling away from the wharf. "Orphans of the Motherland" takes "Native Stepson" to a more global level of thought, cueing off international current events (those being the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of Soviet communism when the song was written). If you can imagine a Cajun waltz being orchestrated by a rock band — well, it actually works.

"South of I-10" is perhaps the most solid tune, the one that tells the best overall story (in words) of south Louisiana culture and recent history (enduring the oil business bust): the people's enduring spirited way of life and joy of living, working hard, playing just as hard: "Life was a waltz/that wouldn't let go," Landreth penned.

"Mojo Boogie" (a J. B. Lenoir tune, the album's only cover song) is a live duet with Allen Toussaint, who has some fine piano mojo working on a tune done in a single night. The sound is pure and simple — Landreth's vocals are fuller and more Mississippi-Delta-sounding, as is his slide guitar work; this goes back to the days of Robert Johnson.

The final cut, "Great Gulf Wind," is an uplifting, soaring, slow-dance tune done in an open, breezy and emotional style that emulates the Cajun lifestyle. Toussaint again plays piano and also, on request, arranged the soulful horn charts.

Whether Landreth is the world s No. I or No. 2 guitarist remains debatable and probably beside the point once you've really heard his music — he leaves an indelible impression on the listener. You'll come back to it again and again. C'est chaud!