From the Reach
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2009, Volume 16, #10
Written by John Metzger
Thu October 22, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
It is difficult to imagine that anything good possibly could have come from the wreckage left by a combination of Hurricane Katrina’s wind and rain, a dilapidated system of protective levees, and the utter failure of absolutely every level of government to respond to the resulting catastrophe in a timely fashion. Yet, although it likely is only of minor consolation to the poor souls who, six years later, remain uprooted and homeless, a beacon of light has begun to burn brightly from within New Orleans’ artistic community. Fueled by feelings of frustration and anger, an array of musicians has pledged their devotion to the Crescent City’s recovery by refusing to let the matter slip from the public’s purview. Like clockwork, albums have surfaced with tremendous regularity, each of which has used the integrity of the region’s cultural heritage as a means of maintaining a focus upon the problems that continue to linger.
Issued in May 2008, Sonny Landreth’s From the Reach initially might seem as if it has joined the protest party rather late. Landreth has slowed down the pace of his recording projects over the past 15 years, and as a result, the endeavor is his first solo set since the disaster occurred. Fittingly, he wastes no time in addressing the concerns that have been weighing upon his mind. Blue Tarp Blues, the album’s opening track, is a biting indictment of a cultural climate that allowed Third-World conditions to invade American shores.
Mostly, however, Landreth uses From the Reach to delve into the fertile ground of relationships. He pours over the slow decay outlined in Storm of Worry. He burrows into the wistful reminiscence of When I Still Had You and revels in the lusty intoxication of Howling Moon. Although Katrina’s blowing winds, driving rain, and rampant devastation continually hover over the proceedings, the outing is doused in optimism as Landreth holds out hope that the future will be better than the present.
Musically, From the Reach adheres closely to the hard-hitting, barroom-blues arrangements that have become Landreth’s stock-in-trade. As always, he swaddles his material in the colorful textures of New Orleans, while also making room for flourishes of country, soul, and pop to drift in and out of his songs. This time, however, Landreth succeeds in striking the right balance between the impassioned intensity of his guitar onslaughts and the polished production that he long has applied to his work.
An array of special guests — including Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Jimmy Buffett, Eric Johnson, Robben Ford, Mark Knopfler, and Vince Gill — stoke the smoldering embers of Landreth’s compositions. Often such star-studded efforts leave fans wanting, but surprising as it may seem, none of Landreth’s collaborators on From the Reach holds anything back. Treated as neither a superior nor an underling, Landreth feeds off the energy of the performances, elevating the joyful exuberance that radiates through The Milky Way Home and magnifying the torment inherent in Storm of Worry.
In the wake of his 1995 effort South of I-10, Landreth looked as if he was on the verge of finding some semblance of crossover appeal. When fame and fortune eluded him, however, he began to stumble, at least in the recording studio. Like many talented sidemen, Landreth has shown a tendency, at times, to allow his vision to become clouded by expectations. From the Reach, then, has given Landreth an opportunity not only to correct the course of his career but also to make another bid at mainstream acceptance. Much like South of I-10, the outing showcases songs that are as engaging as his blistering guitar solos. A musician’s musician whose talents have long been admired by his peers but ignored by the masses, Landreth finally has made an album that everyone can appreciate. ˝
Of Further Interest...
From the Reach is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box