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Sonny Landreth

Bayou blues

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By Michael Norman  

You can feel the sweaty, sensual Louisiana heat rising from slide-guitar virtuoso Sonny Landreth's first live album, Grant Street. It was recorded over two hot nights at the Grant Street Dancehall, a legendary Lafayette, Louisiana, honky-tonk that Landreth has called home for the better part of two decades. The 11-song snapshot captures Landreth at his swampy, electric best, leading longtime sidemen David Ranson (bass) and Kenneth Blevins (drums) through a magical set of pure New Orleans barroom bliss.

A Mississippi native who moved to Louisiana as a child, Landreth grew up listening to rock, blues, zydeco, R&B, funk, jazz and Cajun music. He blends all of those styles here, putting a steamy, contemporary spin on the traditional New Orleans musical gumbo.

Grant Street opens with a wild, uptempo ride -- moving from the vampy, Cajun stomp of "Native Stepson" to the swampy black-cat blues of "Broken Hearted Road" to the crazy Creole circus of "Gone Pelican." There are three previously unrecorded tracks on the album. "Port of Calling" is a sexy, swirling tango that shows off Landreth's virtuosity on the slide guitar. "Wind in Denver" is cool, post-modern 12-bar blues, and "Pedal to the Metal" blasts out as a full-blown, bad-to-the-bone barroom rocker.

But it is Landreth's lyrical, otherworldy, bottleneck slide play that is the album's hallmark. No southern rocker since Duane Allman has been capable of pulling such emotion out of the instrument. Landreth's tone is so lyrical and human, it's spooky.

If there's one song that sums it all up, it's "Congo Square," featured here as the finale of the concert. Landreth wrote the tunes in the 1980s with the band Bayou Rhythm, then re-released it in 1995 on his critically acclaimed album, South of I-10. It is a showcase for his singing, songwriting and musicianship, a mojo blues that twirls and spins with hypnotic New Orleans-style polyrhythms.

Michael Norman is Entertainment Editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.