with Special guest: Ross Hammond
Sonny Landreth’s new album, Bound By The Blues, marks a return to the slide guitarist’s musical roots. It presents a bold, big-sounding collection of recordings that climb to stratospheric heights of jazz informed improvisation, swagger like the best of classic rock, and inevitably remain deeply attached to the elemental emotional and compositional structures that are at the historic core of the blues.
With Landreth’s mountainous guitar tones and nuanced singing leading the way on its ten songs, Bound By the Blues is a powerful tribute to the durability and flexibility of the genre, and to his own creative vision. It’s also a radical departure from his previous two albums, 2012’s classical/jazz fusion outing Elemental Journey and 2008’s guest-star-studded From the Reach.
“Ever since The Road We’re On [his Grammy-nominated 2003 release], fans have been asking me, ‘When are you going to do another blues album?’ Landreth explains. “After expanding my songs for Elemental Journey into an orchestral form, I thought I’d get back to the simple but powerful blues form. I’d been playing a lot of these songs on the road with my band, and we’ve been taking them into some surprising places musically. So going into the studio to record them with just our trio seemed like the next step.”
Bound By the Blues, the guitarist’s twelfth album, pivots on the song “Where They Will.” Its gloriously chiming cascades of six-string, and the refrain “Let the blues take me where they will,” serve as a musical blueprint for the album. “The blues has been a big part of my journey for the past 40-plus years,” Landreth attests. “Some of the numbers on this album are among the first I learned. I wrote ‘Where They Will’ about my relationship to blues – letting the music lead me to new sounds and improvisational passages, and introduce me to things I haven’t played before.”
The Landreth-penned title track offers brilliantly keening guitar solos while paying tribute to the universality of the experiences – love, death, birth, transcendence – chronicled in the blues’ vast catalog. “Bound By the Blues” also name-checks Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, Buffy Sainte-Marie and some of Landreth’s other musical heroes along the way. He offers, “Singing about the unifying power of the blues and paying tribute to the great artists who’ve helped shape the music in that song means a lot to me.”
So does paying homage to his hero and fellow slide slinger Johnny Winter, who died in 2014, with the instrumental “Firebird Blues.” Winter was an important influence. The two men became friends and often shared bills in recent years, and Landreth made a guest appearance on Winter’s 2011 return-to-form Roots. Landreth reflects, “The news of Johnny’s death came just as we were about to make this album and it hit me really hard. I decided to record a slow instrumental as a tribute by keeping it raw and in the moment like Johnny’s playing always was.” To that end, he used his vintage Gibson Firebird guitar, a model long associated with Winter. Drummer Brian Brignac played on cardboard boxes to give the a funky, primitive feel, while bassist David Ranson played a ukulele bass with nylon strings for a more flexible kind of thunder.
“Developing a style and an approach that is your own musically is not something to be taken for granted,” Landreth says. “I’m at a point in life where I want to make the most of every moment I can and that changes your perspective, your priorities and how you relate to everyone else. And at the end of the day, I think that’s the essence of what I wanted to express with Bound By The Blues.”
Special guest: Ross Hammond
Sacramento guitarist Ross Hammond has played on large stages and in small corners throughout the United States. His sound is equal parts jazz, folk, blues, spirituals and world music. His latest release is “Flight,” a solo record of originals and spirituals for acoustic 6 2tring, 12 string and acoustic slide guitar.