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O.C. Pop Music Review : Landreth Casts a Magic Spell


SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Sonny Landreth, who played Tuesday night at the Coach House, is one of those little-known guys about whom music insiders whisper in hushed, reverential tones. A slide guitar wizard, he cut his teeth as a sideman for such acts as John Hiatt, John Mayall, Michael Martin Murphy, Kenny Loggins, Zachary Richard and Michael Doucet and, in the process, developed a deserved reputation as a unique and masterful voice on his instrument.

His solo debut, "Outward Bound" in 1992, cast him in the role of singer-songwriter; his current "South of I-10" CD added slick, commercial production to the mix. Always in his music, there is the essence of his Mississippi-Louisiana upbringing, with heavy doses of Delta blues and Cajun and zydeco influences. He also has an obvious fondness for power blues in the Hendrix-Johnny Winter-ZZ Top mode.

Supported Tuesday by bassist Dave Ranson and drummer Michael Organ--competent enough musicians, if hardly in their bossman's league--Landreth held a clinic in bottleneck guitar stuntsmanship as echoes of such slidin' forebears as Winter, Ry Cooder, Duane Allman and Mick Taylor resonated in his licks.

But while their influence was readily apparent, Landreth remained his own man. Using Chet Atkins' finger-picking style as a launching pad, he also employed such curious right hand techniques as slapping, tickling and drawing his fingers slowly over the strings to evoke an array of effects.

His speed, dexterity and melodicism were wondrous things. Indeed, Landreth proved himself to be a spellbinding guitarist who deserves the accolades heaped upon him. He also seemed truly to enjoy himself onstage as he dipped and ducked with each stratospheric swell of sound and wore an expression of pure intensity on his face throughout the evening.


However, his songwriting and singing strain badly to keep pace with his ambitious musicianship. His compositions are well-crafted but ultimately generic, his vocals heartfelt but lacking muscle (interest levels in the audience dropped noticeably when he was singing instead of ripping on his six strings), and his stage demeanor often was shy and uncomfortable. He has a ways to go before he becomes a complete performer.

He concentrated Tuesday on material from his albums but shone brightest during a number of dazzling instrumental workouts and such covers as Clifton Chenier's "Down in Louisiana" and the blues standard "Key to the Highway."

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