Guitarist Sonny Landreth's 11th outing is a long-awaited all-instrumental project

Louisiana’s Sonny Landreth, long known for his wizardry on the slide, has never issued an all-instrumental recording — until now. Due May 22, 2012 on his own Landfall label, Elemental Journey will include guest appearances by Eric Johnson and Joe Satriani, among others.

“What I’d hoped to end up creating was sonic stories without words,” Landreth says. “And because there are no lyrics, it’s really important to connect on an emotional level. All of the titles for these songs have meaning for me — some of them are impressions from post-Katrina, Rita, the Gulf Spill, friends of mine and their experiences — so that’s part of it too. Still, I want listeners to feel something that resonates with them personally. I’ve always tried to make music that engages you on a deeper level that way.”

Strings play a featured role on five of the pieces. The string arrangements by Sam Broussard — moonlighting from his gig as guitarist in Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys — are played by members of Lafayette’s own Acadiana Symphony Orchestra, conducted by its music director, Mariusz Smolij, a world-renowned maestro. The album also includes appearances by drummers Brian Brignac, Doug Belote and Mike Burch, along with longtime Landreth band members Dave Ranson (bass) and Steve Conn (keyboards). Tony Daigle engineered and mixed the album, while Landreth produced.

Highpoints include Satriani’s ferocious solo on the opener “Gaia Tribe,” while virtuoso Eric Johnson (who also appeared on Landreth’s most recent release, 2008’s From the Reach) casts his seductive spell on the dusky dreamscape “Passionola” and steel drum master Robert Greenidge brings his magical overtones to the balmy, swaying “Forgotten Story.”

“When I first heard Joe’s solo,” Sonny recalls, “I went, ‘This is incredible! I love it but it just comes up out of nowhere — how am I gonna make it fit?’ After talking to Joe, I realized this was a great opportunity to raise the bar creatively. That’s when I got the idea to double the surprise factor and have the strings make their first appearance for the album in the middle of his solo. The next thing I know, a song that had started out as kind of a simple surf thing had become this wild ride of an epic piece and one of my favorite productions.”

Taken together, Elemental Journey promises a layered experience, full of musical surprises: Spanish moss atmospherics enwrap visceral bursts of rock and jazz on “Gaia Tribe,” and Sonny’s slide swoops and soars over a Jamaican-inspired groove with Greenidge’s Trinidadian pans on “Forgotten Story,” while “Wonderide” finds zydeco romancing classical.

“One of the things I’ve always loved about a good instrumental song is that it can be more impressionistic and abstract,” Landreth notes. “Though melody is always important, it’s even more significant with an instrumental. So what I wanted to achieve was something more thematic with lots of melodies and with a chordal chemistry that was harmonically rich. That’s when I got the idea to treat the arrangements with more layering and to have the melodies interweave like conversations. I also wanted it to be more diverse, to not adhere to any categories. I wanted to leave it wide open to possibility.”

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Sonny Landreth. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

TOMMY BOLIN WITH WARREN HAYNES, PETER FRAMPTON, SONNY LANDRETH AND OTHERS – GREAT GYPSY SOUL (2012): Haynes sits in for a new take on the grinding title track from Teaser, while Derek Trucks appears on “Smooth Fandango,” a thumping delight. Steve Morse matches Bolin’s exploratory ambition on the similarly named “Crazed Fandango,” another great find from the sessions for Teaser. Frampton offers a similarly fiery counterpoint on “The Grind.” “Wild Dogs” gets a scuffing up from Brad Whitford, while Steve Lukather lays a grease-popping groove onto “Homeward Strut.” Glenn Hughes and Sonny Landreth combine to complete “Sugar Shack,” giving it a nasty Southern rawk vibe. Nels Cline and Myles Kennedy appear on a delicately mournful rendition of “Dreamer,” Big Sugar and Gordie Johnson on the anthematic reggae-rocker “People People,” and John Scofield on a lilting, jazz-inflected “Savannah Woman.”

SONNY LANDRETH – OUTWARD BOUND (1992): Guitar sideman projects can fall prey to several breeds of debut carnivores — virtuosity to the point of pedantry, a mysterious lack of lyrical depth, that unexplainable one-off looseness. Lafayette’s brilliant slideman Sonny Landreth played off all those pratfalls by delivering this terrific CD. “Outward Bound” sounds like something that needed to be made. Lyrically, Landreth doesn’t stray far, but still hits home with lines about the Pontchartrain, cheres, parishes, bayous and the Napoleonic Code. He’s well-known around those parts, and often returns for local shows — including showcases in his hometown’s signature cultural event, Festival International. More striking is a sturdy three-man core band (former boss John Haitt sits in on two songs, including the galloping “Common-Law Love”). That frees Landreth up to do the fancy fretwork on electric and acoustic bottleneck, lead, rhythm AND dobro.

JEFF GOLUB BAND WITH HENRY BUTLER, SONNY LANDRETH AND OTHERS – THE THREE KINGS (2011): Jeff Golub, a longtime sideman with Rod Stewart and Billy Squier, has compiled the expected all-star amalgam in this tribute to the blues stylings of The Three Kings — Albert, B.B. and Freddie. Most prominent, musically, amongst Golub’s impressive list of visiting stars is pianist (and sometime singer) Henry Butler. Also guesting on second guitar are a boisterous Robben Ford (Freddie King’s “Sidetracked”) and Sonny Landreth, who adds a squalling refrain to “In Plain Sight.” Golub’s backing band includes bassist Andy Hess of Gov’t Mule and trumpeter Rick Braun, among others. Yet it is Golub’s guitar work, canny and sharp-edged, that holds everything together.

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