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Hamptons Life

Jun 30, 2008 10:07 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Sonny Landreth back at Talkhouse after releasing blockbuster collaboration album

Jun 30, 2008 10:07 AM

There are rock legends and then there are out-and-out guitar gods, and Sonny Landreth, a wizard of the slide guitar, has combined both on his latest studio release, “From the Reach,” a collaboration featuring Mr. Landreth in duets with world-renowned talent and one guitar deity.

Mr. Landreth, who will perform at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on Tuesday, July 8, brought an impressive group of musicians into the fold for his ninth studio album, which was released in May by Landfall Records. The result is a compilation of varying styles that have become emblematic over the past four decades.

Mark Knoffler, Robben Ford, Eric Johnson, Vince Gill and even Eric Clapton accepted invitations to play alongside Mr. Landreth, a fellow guitar master who wrote the songs specifically with each individual musician in mind.

Also appearing on the album is the legendary New Orleans pianist and singer Dr. John, as well as East End resident Jimmy Buffett, the iconic cult leader of Parrot Head Nation.

It is interesting to note that each guest featured on “From the Reach” has been either a Grammy winner or nominee during the course of his career. Last year, Mr. Clapton won for Best Contemporary Blues Album and Mr. Gill won Country Album of the Year, while Mr. Ford was a nominee, also in the blues category.

Mr. Knoffler, Mr. Johnson, Dr. John and Mr. Buffett have also won Grammy awards during the course of their impressive careers.

Mr. Landreth, who has long been considered one of the best slide guitar players, although he has never won a Grammy, said he has always drawn inspiration from his peers, especially when they are among the best, if not the best, players in the world.

Best known for his techniques on the slide guitar, he uses his left-hand little finger to “fret” notes with a slide piece while playing chords and chord fragments in the background with his other four fingers simultaneously. He also uses his right hand to tap, slap and pick at the strings. The two techniques combined create a distinct sound that identifies it as Mr. Landreth’s music.

“I’ve been really fortunate to have had the creative range to do what I wanted,” Mr. Landreth said during a recent interview from his home in Louisiana, when asked whether he was ever tempted to craft his style to suit a more mainstream audience.

Mr. Clapton once called Mr. Landreth “probably the most underestimated musician on the planet and also probably one of the most advanced.” And, considering the level of talent among his collaborators on “From the Reach,” Mr. Landreth said the result is engaging.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and it just seemed like this was the best time to do it,” the guitarist said about his new album. “We’ve been working for a lot of years to get where we are now.”

The opener on “From the Reach” is “Blue Tarp Blues” and features Mr. Landreth exchanging solos with Mr. Knoffler, who led Dire Straits, the British rock band, to sell more than 120 million records. Mr. Landreth wrote the song with the Dire Straits classic “Sultan of Swing,” in mind, and said he received feedback from Mr. Knoffler while composing the lyrics.

Mr. Clapton, who is the only guitarist to play alongside Mr. Landreth on three of the album’s 11 songs, first unleashes his signature sound on “When I Still Had You,” adding soulful backup vocals to the track as well. Mr. Landreth remembers asking Mr. Clapton to perform with him many years ago at a small club outside of London. His request was denied, but only because Mr. Clapton wanted to sit and enjoy Mr. Landreth’s music like everyone else in the club.

“So the people at the club asked me if I had any guests,” Mr. Landreth said, laughing as he recalled the memory. “I said, ‘I only have one guest tonight, and it’s Eric Clapton.’”

Vince Gill introduces some country-rock licks on “The Goin’ On,” and in doing so brings a completely new sound to Mr. Landreth’s body of work. The same can be said of Eric Johnson’s distorted, cello-like guitar playing on “The Milky Way Home,” which also gave Mr. Landreth the opportunity to feature another unique style on the album.

“I was kind of concerned that the guest album has kind of become a cliché,” Mr. Landreth said. “And that’s where I got the idea to write these songs with the individual artists in mind. As a songwriter it was a real challenge. These are some of the greatest musicians in the world, and the one side of everyone saying yes was that it had to be really good.”

Mr. Landreth departed from the album’s guitar theme with “Howlin’ Moon,” a song he wrote with Dr. John, also a native of Louisiana, in mind. Mr. Buffett, who often performs live with Mr. Landreth, sings vocals on the track.

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