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Sonny Landreth 

Grant Street (Sugar Hill Records)

Sonny Landreth's guitar sounds like it's wrestling with the very electrons flying from his amplifier, in a battle to determine whether pure notes or raunchy overtones will win the day. The notes always win, of course, but they never destroy the overtones. It's been 65 years since the amplified guitar began its domination of music forms, but it has rarely sounded more completely electric than in the hands of this southwest Louisiana master.

Grant Street is the first live album of Landreth's long career, which began in the 1970s when he was a member of Clifton Chenier's zydeco band. After moving out on his own, albeit with notable side trips with John Hiatt and, apparently, Leslie West and Mountain, Landreth assimilated zydeco and blues into his own distinctive rock & roll style. Ask anyone who's ever seen the man live: Nobody in the world plays guitar like this.

The album lasts sixty-four minutes, and while only four of eleven cuts are instrumentals, there probably isn't much more than fifteen minutes' worth of vocals on the disc. This is a record about a guitarist and his propulsive rhythm section -- bassist David Ranson and drummer Kenneth Blevins -- showing off what they do best. Landreth never repeats himself; he just keeps flying over, under and around the chord changes, whipping those electrons with a flurry of slide and his personal style of simultaneous fingering on the fretboard.

Every cut is a highlight, but jump straight to the previously unreleased "Wind in Denver." Here we have a blues song with a straightforward vocal melody, but once Landreth starts the solo, he wrings every last ounce of emotional power from it. He hammers the notes, slides up higher and higher, bounces the chords and overdrives the overtones. Landreth is looking for the truth, and the truth doesn't want to run away. In fact, it comes back again and again on this fully realized document of one of our most underrated live performers.

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More by Steve Pick

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