What I’ve Been Listening to: Sonny Landreth/Blacktop Run

Sonny Landreth is one of various top-notch guitarists I could have included in my recent slide guitar feature. This is what prompted me to check what Landreth who is also known as “the King of Slydeco” has been up to. Well, it turns out he released his 14th solo album Blacktop Run in February this year. While it’s classified as blues, I’d call it a tasty rootsy gumbo that includes flavors of blues, swamp rock, zydeco and jazz rock.

Before I get to it, first a few words about the man. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Landreth was born February 1, 1951, in Canton, Mississippi, and his family lived in Jackson, Mississippi, for a few years before settling in Lafayette, Louisiana. Landreth began playing guitar after a long tenure with the trumpet. His earliest inspiration came from Scotty Moore, the guitarist from Elvis Presley’s band, but as time went on, he learned from the recordings of musicians and groups like Chet Atkins and the Ventures. As a teen, Landreth began playing with his friends in their parents’ houses.

Sonny Landreth: "How Not to Sound Awful" | WWNO

After his first professional gig with accordionist Clifton Chenier in the ’70s (where he was the only white guy in the Red Beans & Rice Revue for awhile), Landreth struck out on his own, but not before he recorded two albums for the Blues Unlimited label out of Crowley, Louisiana, Blues Attack in 1981 and Way Down in Louisiana in 1985…The second of those two albums got him noticed by some record executives in Nashville, which in turn led to his recording and touring work with John Hiatt.

That led to still more work with John Mayall, who recorded Landreth’s radio-ready “Congo Square.” More recently, he’s worked with New Orleans bandleader and pianist Allen Toussaint (who guests on several tracks on South of I-10, as does Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler). Eric Clapton has called Landreth one of the most advanced guitarists in the world, notes Wikipedia, and one of the most under-appreciated. Landreth’s accolades include Instrumentalist of the Year (Americana Music Association, 2005) and a 2016 Blues Music Award in the Instrumentalist – Guitar category. Time for some music!

I’d like to kick it off with the opener and title track. It’s among the eight of the ten tacks that were written by Landreth.

Mule is a catchy up-tempo rocker that makes you want to dance. It features great slide guitar and accordion work.

Groovy Goddess is one of four instrumentals on the album. And groovy it certainly is! Its improvisational nature gives it a jazzy feel. And there’s more of Landreth’s amazing slide guitar work.

Two tracks on the album were written by Steve Conn, who also played electric piano, organ and accordion. Somebody Gotta Make a Move is one of them. Landreth’s website notes the newly arranged song features a guitar tuning Landreth developed but had not used in the studio.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Many Worlds, another instrumental.

Most of Blacktop Run’s tracks were recorded live in-studio at the storied Dockside Studios on the Vermilion River south of Lafayette, La., where artists like Dr. John, B.B. King and Taj Mahal are among past clients. In addition to Conn, Landreth was backed by David Ranson (bass) and Brian Brignac (drums).

The album was co-produced by Landreth, R.S. Field and Tony Daigletto. Field previously co-produced three of Landreth’s other albums. “His [Field’s] brilliance and creative energy recharged us,” Landreth stated. “We came up with new and better ideas, and that’s what you want. It couldn’t have gone better.”

He added, “All told, the different elements of this project came together and I’m really happy about it. Blacktop Run is probably the most eclectic recording I’ve done. And sonically, I think this is the best album we’ve ever made.” While I haven’t explored any of Landreth’s other albums, I know one thing: Blacktop Run is excellent and makes me want to hear more of his catalog.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Sonny Landreth website; YouTube

The Year that was 2020 – Part 2 of 2

A look back on my music journey over the past 12 months

This is second and last installment of my two-part year in review. In case you missed part 1, you can read it here.

Celebrating new music one song at a time

With more than 150 songs highlighted since the launch of the Best of What’s New feature, I find it impossible to call out the best tunes. As I wrote in the inaugural March 21 post, While I don’t see myself starting to write about electronic dance music or Neue Deutsche Haerte a la Rammstein, I’m hoping to keep these posts a bit eclectic. I realize the characterization “best” is pretty subjective. If a song speaks to me, it’s fair game. I should perhaps have added that I don’t need to like other tunes by an artist to include them. It’s literally about the specific song.

Best of What’s New installments have featured tunes ranging from prominent artists like Sheryl Crow, The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty to lesser known acts like rock bands Brother Man and Mondo Silicone and Austin, Texas-based band leader Joe Sparacino, aka. Dr. Joe. Frequently, these posts triggered new album reviews, e.g., LeRoux (One of Those Days), Mick Hayes (My Claim to Fame) and Niedeckens BAP (Alles Fliesst). Following are four songs I discovered in the context of Best of What’s New.

Dr. Joe: Believer

From Dr. Joe’s websiteBased in Austin TX but raised on a farm outside Salina, Kansas, band leader Joe Sparacino spent his early childhood learning piano from a southern gospel choir matron and listening to his family’s old vinyl collection of Ray Charles, Leon Russell and James Booker. Released on April 10, Believer was Dr. Joe’s then-latest single and it’s cooking!

The Reverberations: Under Your Spell

The Reverberations are a five-piece band from Portland, Ore. Their Bandcamp profile characterizes their music as “’60s influenced psychedelic jangle.” I’d call it psychedelic garage rock. Under Your Spell, the B-side to their single Palm Reader released May 28, features some cool Byrds-ey guitars and nice keyboard work. Did I mention it’s also got a quite catchy melody? And check out the lovely psychedelic cover art – super cool all around! For more on this great band, you can read my review of their February 2019 album Changes, their most recent full-fledged studio release.

Kat Riggins: No Sale

Kat Riggins is a blues artist hailing from Miami. According to her website, She travels the world with the sole mission of keeping the blues alive and thriving through her Blues Revival Movement. She has been vocally compared to Koko Taylor, Etta James and Tina Turner to name a few. The nice blues rocker No Sale, which has a bit of a ZZ Top vibe, is from Riggins’ fourth album Cry Out released on August 14. That woman’s got it!

Greta Van Fleet: Age of Machine

Age of Machine is the second single from Greta Van Fleet’s next album The Battle at Garden’s Gate, which is scheduled for April 16, 2021. I think this kickass rocker provides more evidence the young band has evolved their style, moving away from their initial Led Zeppelin-influenced sound. Looking forward to the album!

Live music in the year of the pandemic…

Except for two tribute band concerts in January, pretty measly for the ‘King of the Tribute Band,’ I didn’t go to any live gigs this year. Shows for which I had tickets, including The Temptations and The Four Tops, Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, and Steely Dan with special guest Steve Winwood, were rescheduled until April, June and July 2021, respectively. Perhaps with the exception of the last concert, I hope all other shows will be rescheduled a second time and moved back to the second half of the year. For somebody who loves live music and over the past 4-5 years has gotten into the habit of seeing an average 20-30 shows per year (counting lower cost tribute band and free summer type concerts), seizing live concerts it’s a bitter but necessary pill to swallow until this lethal pandemic is behind us.

I ended up watching two live concerts via Internet stream: Southern Avenue at Instrumenthead Live Studio in Nashville, Tenn. last week, and Mike Campbell’s band The Dirty Knobs at the Troubador in Los Angeles in late November. It was fun and also a nice opportunity to support music via voluntary donations in lieu of buying official tickets, but no virtual experience can replace the real deal.

Some final musings…

While my primary motivation for the blog has always been the joy I get from writing about a topic I love, i.e., music, it’s nice to see continued growth in visitor traffic, followers and feedback. Just like in 2019, the most popular post remained my January 2018 piece about Bad Company’s live CD/DVD collection from their May 15, 2016 show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre; personally, I find the post average at best. By comparison, my July 12, 2020 post about the mellotron, which I’m proud of, received less than one percent of traffic than the Bad Company post. Perhaps, it was too geeky! 🙂 It’s funny how these things sometimes go.

I’d like to thank all visitors of the blog. If you’re here for the first time, you’re welcome back anytime. If you’re a regular, I hope you keep coming back. I also enjoy receiving comments, including different opinions. All I ever ask is to keep things civil.

Last but not least, I’d like to leave you with a great song by Southern Avenue they also played during the above noted virtual concert. I feel it’s a great message, especially during these crazy times: Don’t Give Up, from their eponymous debut album released in February 2017. Since I couldn’t capture footage from the above gig, here’s an alternative I can offer: a clip I recorded during a show at The Wonder Bar, a small venue in Asbury Park, N.J. in July 2019.

Sources: Christian’s Music Music Musings; YouTube

LeRoux’s First New Album in 18 Years Serves Tasty Gumbo of Blues, Southern Rock and Zydeco

Until Friday, I had never heard of LeRoux, aka Louisiana’s LeRoux. Then I came across their great song Lucy Anna and featured it in my latest Best of What’s New installment. The tune, which has a nice Little Feat vibe, is from the Baton Rouge-based group’s new album One of Those Days. Earlier today, I found myself in the car and spontaneously decided to listen into the album. All it really took to realize I’m going to dig this music were the first minute or two of the opener and title track – sometimes you just know right away!

Released on July 24, One of Those Days is LeRoux’s first new album in 18 years since 2002’s Higher Up. Prior to that, five of their six earlier records came out between 1978 and 1983. What evidently were the band’s most active years coincided with the period that lasted until their first breakup in 1984 after they had been dropped by their label RCA. However, they already regrouped in 1985. As explained on their website, the band took their name from “the Cajun French term for the thick and hearty gravy base that’s used to make a gumbo,” a rich, thick soup with meat or shellfish and vegetables that’s popular in Louisiana.

LeRoux (from left): Front: Tony Haselden (vocals, guitars) and Jim Odom (guitars); Back: Randy Carpenter (drums), Joey Decker (bass, backing vocals), Jeff McCarty (vocals), Mark Duthu (percussion), Nelson Blanchard (keyboards, vocals) and Rod Roddy (vocals, keyboards)

It doesn’t look like LeRoux ever had a significant national breakthrough, at least not based on chart performance. Their most successful single, which somewhat ironically was titled Nobody Said It Was Easy (Lookin’ For The Lights), peaked at no. 18 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 – to be clear, I’m not saying this makes them a bad band. After all, I wouldn’t be writing about them if I thought they suck. I’m simply stating some facts.

As you would expect from a group that has been around for more than 40 years, LeRoux have seen many changes in their line-up. Apparently, two of the co-founding members, Tony Haselden (vocals, guitars) and Rod Roddy (vocals, keyboards), are still around. The current line-up also features Jim Odom (guitars), Nelson Blanchard (keyboards, vocals), Mark Duthu (percussion), Randy Carpenter (drums), Jeff McCarty (vocals) and Joey Decker (bass, backing vocals). Except for Decker who joined in 2014, most of the other members have been with the band for at least 10 years.

Let’s get to some music. A great place to start is the aforementioned opener and title track co-written by Odom and Haselden. Here’s the official video. I just love the warm sound, the guitars and keyboard work. I can hear some Allman Brothers and some Doobies in here. What a great tune! Why aren’t these guys better known, or is it just my ignorance?

No One’s Gonna Love Me (Like The Way You Do) is another great tune. It was written by Dustin Ransom, who per Wikipedia is a Nashville-based multi-instrumentalist, producer, vocalist, arranger, music transcriber and film composer – jeez, I guess they forgot to add over-achiever! And, oh, yeah, he’s 33 years old. Man, check out these harmonies and tell me this doesn’t sound friggin’ awesome!

Next up: Don’t Rescue Me, another Odom-Haselden co-write. This one reminds me a bit of Lynyrd Skynyrd. No matter what influence may be in there, it’s just a solid tune – love that opening guitar riff, and there’s more great harmony singing!

On After All, LeRoux are slowing it down a bit. Coz you gotta take a break from going full throttle every now and then after all! 🙂 The tune was co-written by Randy Sharp and Donald Anderson. According to Wikipedia, over the past 40 years, Sharp’s songs have been performed by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Blood Sweat and Tears, Edgar Winter and Emmylou Harris.

Here’s one more: Lifeline (Redux), a groovy rocker co-written by Odom, Haselden and McCarty. Apparently, it’s a new version of a tune the band initially recorded for their fifth studio album So Fired Up from 1983, the last release prior their first breakup.

“It’s the best combination of LeRoux’s musical palette and represents the abilities of the band better than any album we’ve probably ever done,” Haselden notes in a statement on the band’s website. “It covers a wide spectrum of blues, southern rock, and zydeco.” Now you know from where I got the inspiration for the post’s headline!

I can’t speak to other LeRoux records, but what I do know is One of Those Days is a great-sounding album I’m very happy I found. Last but not least, I should also mention some notable guests: Blues guitarist Tab Benoit; original Toto vocalist Bobby Kimball; and Bill Champlin, former longtime keyboarder and guitarist of Chicago.

Sources: Wikipedia; LeRoux website; YouTube