Louisiana guitar slinger Sonny Landreth returns to the studio with his quartet two years after 2017's Grammy-nominated Recorded Live in Lafayette. Blacktop Run is more than just a new studio outing, however. Landreth reunites with producer R.S. Field for the first time since 2005's Grant Street. Field produced Landreth's three breakout sets for Zoo as well as several later albums. He is a studio empath and extends artists full faith and credit. Landreth possesses a distinct sound to be sure, direct, resonant, and simple, but he's restless when it comes to experimenting with styles. He juxtaposes, combines, and balances them with alarming regularity and reckless abandon. But he always anchors them into easily relatable grooves. He and the band recorded live to tape at Dockside Studios.
Landreth's band includes keyboardist Steve Conn, drummer Brian Brignac, and bassist David Ranson. The guitarist wrote eight of these ten tunes; Conn penned the other two, which include the stellar instrumental "Beyond Borders," a jam that melds hard Southern swamp rock, electric slide blues, and Latin cumbia. The opening title track begins with fingerpicked National Steel guitar, a droning bassline, washboard, and bumping tom-toms. Landreth's singing voice at almost 70 years of age is better than ever: he glides through the lyrics, allowing his guitar to help carry them with his deft plectrum and slide-guitar picking, often in the same line. The tune is a rambling blues, infused with the energy of a pickup rolling down the open highway. "Lover Dance with Me" is a dirty Cajun blues instrumental with funky overtones. Landreth's scorching leads crisscross jazz, R&B, and garage rock on his way to blues while Ranson's bass growls with distorted passion in the backdrop propelling him forward. "Mule" is a Cajun stomper complete with button accordion; zydeco and Delta blues melt together on a honky tonk dancefloor. "Groovy Goddess" is a spiky instrumental showcasing Landreth's electric slide-playing swing. It has a hooky chorus line inserted to break up the pyrotechnics, but only holds them in check momentarily "Somebody Gotta Make a Move" is a cautionary tale with a reggae-cum-R&B backbeat injected into swamp blues. "Don’t Ask Me" brings the acoustic National Steel back to the fore in front of a shuffling drumkit and singing accordion. While "Many Worlds" commences as a slow-ish Americana tune, Landreth's nasty electric slide delves deep into shades of Southern blue. "Something Grand" is a country song written by Landreth. Accompanied by martial snares and a shimmering, soulful Hammond B-3, Landreth's fingerpicked acoustic frames a vulnerable lyric that amounts to narrative poetry. It argues the place for love: one that heals tragedy, ruin, and broken promises. It sends Blacktop Run out on notes of tenderness and mercy born of grit. Landreth and Field bring out the best in one another. They are symbiotic in their restless energies and experimental visions, and have consistently delivered excellence together; Blacktop Run is no exception. ~ Thom Jurek