Sonny Landreth – Bound by the Blues

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Every guitarist has a voice, or should. As much as notes and chords sound out a tune, a vibrato here, a favored scale there, a bend of the strings, it all gives expression of the guitarist’s intent, never mind choice of instrument, amplifier or effects pedals.  Many guitarists are immediately identifiable; Mark Knopfler, Santana, David Gilmour, Steve Hackett, and Jeff Beck are some of my favorites – a few notes and I know who it is.   Landreth is another.  His genre is the blues, but his influences of Louisiana Zydeco music applied with his slide technique makes his sound extremely distinctive.
Sonny Landreth - Bound by the Blues - CD review
On Bound by the Blues, Landreth has five originals, two of which are instrumentals, and otherwise pulls out five blues standards, often played but waiting for his interpretation.  Also, as the title suggests, the mix of songs offers the opportunity to maintain a stylistic whole.  While this may seem limiting, the alternative is to risk offering an album with a couple of treasures (to be enjoyed by the iSingles generation depending on stylistic preference), rather than enjoying the album as a whole… like in the good ol’ days.

“Walking Blues” is a solid entry.  The Robert Johnson standard, as often as it’s covered, would, to someone who hasn’t heard it, sound distinctively “Landreth.”  The only negative here, as on the remainder of the album, is the submerged bass.  As his voice, guitar tuning, and even percussion live within the high end, the sound would be helped with a firmer anchor. 

“Bound by the Blues,” an original, is the mission statement, an enjoyable song throughout.  “High Side” is another original, and while the song is otherwise excellent, getting to the guitar parts are the reward for moving beyond an awkward chorus phrasing.  “It Hurts Me Too” is an oldie, played to perfection.

My favorite song is “Where They Will,” an original where all the parts fit, not the least of which is Landreth’s intent to rock, in relative terms, a bit harder than he has in recent years.  That’s true of much of this album.

The Skip James classic, “Cherry Ball,” is enjoyable and is well covered, but it less than it does when Skip James sings it.   But, they’re still Landreth’s slide guitar which makes it all worth it.  “Firebird Blues,” an instrumental tribute to Johnny Winter, where Landreth stretches his sound through the middle, but regrettably finishes with a lackluster, tried and true progression at the end.  It’s not bad, it’s just that the opportunity existed for something greater.

He returns to classics, “Dust My Broom” and “Key to the Highway,” which he dispatches with an aggressive relish.  “Simcoe Street,” an instrumental original, concludes the album ably.  I might argue it’s positioning and opt for  “Key to the Highway” as a stronger finish, but in any case, this is a very good listen.  Landreth doesn’t redefine any songs, he just blisters it where appropriate.  And that’s a good thing.

Recommended: “Where They Will,” “It Hurts Me Too,” “Key to the Highway”
(rounded up slightly)

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