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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 

SONNY LANDRETH
The Borderline, London, May 12th 2009

It’s all about technique, really. About hours of relentless practice, remorselessly pushing oneself to the outer limits of endurance. Stretching every muscle, every tendon, every nerve in search of that ultimate goal. It’s something that amateurs and dilettantes never understand, never appreciate. It’s about having the technique. How else do you think anyone could survive three hours packed sardine-like into the Borderline on a warm Spring evening? The sweat is dripping off the walls, beer sticks to the floor.

Sonny Landreth
The audience, mostly over-weight men in their fifties [who exactly are you talking about Nick? Ed.] seems to have prepared for the evening by spending three days eating nothing but Chicken Chilli Masala laced with pickled onions (an inspired combination of two of Britain’s most traditional foods) , if the tepid and malodorous air – what little of it there is – is anything to go by. With no space to spare, it’s every man (or Photographer) for himself, trying to find a spot, perfectly balanced, where a not-too-craned neck will get you a clear view of Sonny Landreth. Because you just have to see him playing the guitar. Listening isn’t enough. It’s all about the technique, really.
In case you don’t know, Landreth, who hails from Louisiana, is a slide guitarist. Well, not quite. In most people’s eyes, he is the slide guitarist. A man who transforms rolling a piece of metal tube across six pieces of taught wire into an art learnt from the gods. He’s not what you would call well-known: most of his reputation rests on the work he’s done for other artists, notably John Hiatt. His last album, 2008’s From the Reach, a collaborative work with a host of blues luminaries, is currently ranked 22,861 in Amazon’s list of UK bestsellers. That puts him almost on a par with Bob the Builder, whose Never Mind the Breeze Blocks ranks at 19,735, way behind the soundtrack to Madagascar 3: Escape 2 Africa, out of sight of High School Musical 3: Senior Year, and apparently in an entirely inferior league to the novelty-voiced Paisley (i.e. Scotland, and where the ties and dressing gowns come from) boy Paolo Nutini, whose new album is, after only a week on the market, listed as number one. Slide
Odd then that Rolex International Brand Ambassador and sometime blues guitarist Eric Clapton (did you know he has a watch collection, Serge? Who would do a thing like that?) should describe him as "probably the most underestimated musician on the planet, and also...probably one of the most advanced.". But it’s true, and to appreciate the point you have to endure any degree of physical discomfort to see him play. It’s all about the technique, really.
Sonny Landreth
No-one had told me, not even Mike who’s seen Landreth on many occasions, so when he started playing, I was simply flabbergasted. And the point is that it wasn’t just his left hand which, ably working the slide, killing unwanted strings behind but fingering others, made it look as though the slide was just a natural extension of his hand like some sort of X-Man. No, it was his right-hand technique that was truly remarkable. Of course, he led with a percussive thumb pick as most slide players do, but the way he used his remaining four fingers (or was it eight, or ten, or twelve?) was practically impossible to comprehend. He picked, he plucked, he strummed; his right-hand fingers danced the length of the fret-board, teasing sounds from the slide and strings that were simply wonderful. In fact, I cannot do it justice, I’m not that good a writer. You have to see him play.
And don’t get me wrong, or mismanage your expectations: the songs aren’t really great. His backing band are as precise as the atomic clock, but they’re never going to set the world on fire. And Landreth’s voice is pretty much like any other southern-accented American rock singer. That’s not the point. It’s the guitar playing: it sounds as devilishly complex as it looks, so that corpulent men and bowel and body odour notwithstanding, you could listen to it for hours. It’s all about the technique, really. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate) Sonny Landreth 3
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