CD Review of From the Reach by Sonny Landreth
Recommended if you like
C.C. Adcock, Michael Doucet, Chubby Carrier
Label
Landfall
Sonny Landreth:
From the Reach

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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F
ollowing three albums for Sugar Hill (and an interminable five-year hiatus), Sonny Landreth’s seventh studio release, From the Reach, finds him striking out on his own label. Anemic sales have been a fact of life for Landreth as a solo artist, but as a hired gun, he’s long been a legend among guitar lovers – you could probably make an argument for someone else as the greatest living slide player, but you’d have to do it very persuasively.

Even the best guitarist is only as good as his worst material, though, and Landreth’s solo records, while certainly not without their moments, have often been extremely uneven – which goes a long way toward explaining why a guy who commands rapturous applause at John Hiatt shows hasn’t been able to get arrested with his name above the title.

Perhaps partly because of this, Landreth has assembled a veritable orgy of guest talent for From the Reach – his duet partners here include Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Eric Johnson, Robben Ford, Vince Gill, Dr. John, Nadirah Shakoor, and (a thankfully barely audible) Jimmy Buffett. It has all the makings of a celebrity train wreck, but it isn’t – in fact, it’s Landreth’s best album yet.

All the six-string pyrotechnics are part of what make the record great, of course, but they only tell part of the story. Matter of fact, Landreth and friends show admirable restraint with their playing; everything here is done in service of the songs, and the record never gets lost in head-cutting territory. The guitars are still front and center – a very good thing, considering Landreth’s limited capacity as a vocalist – but they’re firmly in the pocket; the longest track here clocks in under five and a half minutes.

What puts Reach over the top is the material Landreth put together for the disc. Of the 11 songs, Landreth wrote 10 by himself and co-wrote one, and there isn’t a dud in the bunch. (Actually, some of them – like the instantly catchy “When I Still Had You,” featuring Clapton – feature the best performances their respective guest stars have released in years.) His reedy vocals still won’t win any prizes, but these songs play to Landreth’s strengths as a singer and instrumentalist, and all of his partners (with the exception of Buffett, who, again, is thankfully buried in the mix) are perfectly matched with the material. Particularly noteworthy are the soaring “The Milky Way Home,” featuring Eric Johnson, and opening track “Blue Tarp Blues,” whose laconic post-Katrina rage is a natural fit for Knopfler.

If you’re a rock music fanatic, chances are you own at least one album that includes a toe-curling cameo from Landreth – and chances are you don’t own any of Landreth’s solo releases. You are part of the problem. Happily, you can start repenting for the error of your ways – and rocking your ass off – by purchasing what is easily one of the best albums of the year so far. Play it loud. Thank us later.

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