Recorded Live in Lafayette is Sonny Landreth's first official live release in ten years, and the two CD set is made even more special by being a largely acoustic set, an acoustic set that is also very exciting. In fact, it's electrifying.
I would imagine that most Landreth fans are like myself, and have never had the opportunity to see the acoustic side of Sonny's musical mastery. Everyone knows that it's harder to keep the energy up on an acoustic gig, but it turns out that the true excitement to be found in the Louisiana native's music is in his total sense of commitment to his material.
It's all in the details: his rhythm guitar playing never takes time off, the precision and soulful nature of his rhythms keep you moving in a wonderful way, a way in which it does its job without being showy, but masterful nonetheless; when the accordion comes in for a solo on the set opening "Blues Attack" the band locks into a sophisticated syncopation that allows the solo to fly. Then it's time for Sam Broussard (yes, the same Sam Broussard who along with Sonny created the strings and soundscapes that made Landreth's instrumental album of 2012, Elemental Journey such an incredible record) to take a solo on acoustic guitar, and you instantly see why he's sharing a stage with on of the greatest living guitarists. Now it's time for Landreth to solo, and his pristine playing exhibits why he's one of the most unique and talented guitarists on the planet.
Speaking of the band, you have longtime Landreth collaborator Dave Ranson on the ukulele bass, Brian Brignac and his cajon (the box-shaped percussion instrument from Peru which has become a standard for acoustic performances), Steve Conn on the accordion, and of course, their leader Landreth. There is no question but that it's Landreth's show, but he gives ample room for everyone to display their skills and wares. These fellows move through a career covering set not just playing like their lives depended on it, but also like they are truly listening to each other. Very complex rhythms come across sounding very natural, relaxed, but also very intense.
"Back To Bayou Teche" is a Landreth setlist standard, and this full band, electric rendition is made special by the accordion and the second guitar. Then you have "Brave New Girl" which gets a relatively stripped down treatment from the string and keyboard laden studio version (Elemental Journey album), and it does not suffer from the absence of a more dense arrangement. It is, in fact, elemental and gets down to the basics of the gorgeous composition and the exquisite guitar playing. Mind you, again, the entire band is brilliant, and there are great lessons in what every member is playing.
The production on this set is stunning. Every detail is crystal clear, the tones are sumptuous and corpulent, and the mix is one that would be difficult to improve upon, and that's well worth noting in these days where it is more common to find live releases being tossed out like t-shirts at the merch booth (and with about as much care). No, this sounds like there was much thought to such things as microphone placement, tone tweaking, and once again, some very careful listening and attention to detail.
I'll wrap things up by talking about the reason we're all here, and that is the music, the songs. This is a great career spanning set, ranging from Sonny's 1981 debut album right up to 2015's "Bound By The Blues". If by some crime you've never been on the Sonny Landreth train, this is a great way to climb aboard. The songs have aged beautifully, the playing has only gotten better, and Sonny Landreth and his ace band could not be more on point.
In a time in which we are so often disappointed by the quantity and quality of the goods we're seeing, it's great to know that there are guys like Sonny Landreth, who is doing his absolute best at every turn. He's surrounded himself with excellent collaborators and bandmates, and that it's all being captured and presented in a way which is not just satisfying, but also very exciting.
Find Live In Lafayette here.