Sugar Hill Records, Inc.
A review written for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
Celebrated slide guitarist Sonny Landreth's new Sugar Hill release, "Levee Town," is sure to get you rockin'! |
Steeped in black Creole history, the Lafayette, Louisiana native has capitalized on his teenage days as the only white member of Clifton Chenier's Red Hot Louisiana Band. The result is a boiling gumbo of blackened lyrics and slick licks sweet enough to pull you in and hot enough to hold you! Dervish finger-picking, in combination with that unbeatable bottleneck slide sets the swamps ablaze from the title track opener to the riveting end. Five years in the making, Levee Town, is worth every minute of the wait!
John Hiatt, with whom Sonny normally tours as lead guitarist in John's band The Goners, makes a guest appearance on the disk as do other notables including Bonnie Raitt and Jennifer Warnes. Herb Pedersen and Marce Lacouture round out the background vocals, with an impressive array of horns, percussion, keyboards, fiddles, accordion and rubboards completing the jambalaya. However, it's Sonny's three-fingered chords and glass-covered pinky making the most magic. Never has the littlest digit packed as much punch!
With stellar songwriting as equal partner to the edgy instrumentation, the entire song set depicts life as Landreth knew it coming of age in the 70's along the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers of southern Louisiana. In the title cut, he sings, "In the eye of the storm, we will face our fears, at the reckoning place, all channels wind up here." Landreth croons the chorus of This River, (Cut 2) "Here on this river, on a course for keeps, after all these years, we're still here, this river runs deep," chronicling the rivers' timeless importance to the people of the region. The good time drive-song U.S.S. Zydecoldsmobile, (Cut 3) reflects Sonny's deep roots in Creole and Cajun rhythms while paying homage to his boat-sized early-80's vintage Olds.
Influenced by Longfellow's epic poem, "Evangeline" and Plato's "Protagoras," Love and Glory, (Cut 4) reminds us that you never know where a simple conversation can lead you, recounting here a tale from deep south storyteller Spider-Gris. Landreth then honors the man with a powerful instrumental tone-rich theme song by the same name in Cut 6, signature Sonny slide. Broken-Hearted Road, is an acoustic bluesy strut that breaks into backbone-achin' full-blown bayou swamp rock about halfway through. I imagine it's quite the surprise on a live stage!
Growing up among mansions that pre-date the Civil War, many of which were said to be haunted, Sonny wrote the slow poetic story-song Godchild (Cut 7) to call back the spirit of one lost soul still wandering the Bayou Teche. Turning With the Century, (Cut 8) then pulls you back from the past: "From an ear to the ground to the info age, and a run in the jungle to a walk in space, the big picture is straining my eyes, but I dig the view and I'm mesmerized." With a finishing touch only Landreth would dare, eerie guitar harmonics leave you hanging. But not for long! Z. Rider (Cut 9) is four minutes of raw recorded instrumental jam. Punctuated by double-clutch kick drum, the energy from his Fender Strat smacks you square in the solar plexus!
No slouch herself on slide, Bonnie Raitt adds more than her two-cents worth of vocals to Cut 10, Soul Salvation, while Stephen Bruton lends his acoustic Leslie licks to the tune. Sonny says of the song, "They kicked my little Swamp Pop flavored tune up to a whole new level." What an understatement! This is one song that deserves all the radio play we could give it!
A swinging song of optimism in the face of adversity, Landreth named Angeline (Cut 11) for the wife of his 96 year-old moonshiner friend of whom he says, "I always got the feeling she was his saving grace." And it is with a graceful nod to prosperity the album ends. Singing about the "sweet keep of the Deep South" in the final cut, he explains in his Song by Song Notes: "a 'sweet keep' is a protection, something or someone that looks out for you." Since indeed death awaits each of us in our own time, Sonny encourages us to feel the magic that surrounds us every minute we're alive.
The solid storytelling, with its insightful vocal imagery invoke a sense of place as vividly as if painted on canvas. With this CD, even more so than with his 1995 release, South of I-10, Sonny carries us to his homeplace in southwestern Louisiana where cajun-inflected French influenced his earliest musical language. Where mist shrouded bayous and moss-drenched trees take on mojo all their own. And where the heat of a sultry summer afternoon dissipates as slowly as disintegrating mint leaves in the juleps. Landreth's Levee Town is a sound that won't soon go away.