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Pop Music Review : Guitarist Landreth Brings Louisiana to Santa Monica

“Do you know what zydeco is?”

That’s the question Louisiana-based guitarist Sonny Landreth asked an overflow crowd Thursday at Congo Square in Santa Monica. And in case anyone wasn’t sure, Landreth provided a quick and spectacular lesson: 45-minutes of solo electric guitar, playing an expressive mix of Cajun blues and straight-ahead rock.

The performance was a free-admission showcase designed mainly to promote Landreth’s new album, “South of I-10.” But the delicate, layered guitar sleight-of-hand of this solo show offered a dramatic contrast to the full Bayou boogie of the record.

Landreth--who built a career as a sideman to such artists as John Hiatt, the late zydeco master Clifton Chenier and English bluesman John Mayall--opened Thursday’s set with two instrumentals built around some astonishing slide guitar work. Every song that followed was packed with more layers of aggressive playing technique, and dramatic highs and lows. But unlike many pop virtuosos, Landreth usually managed to keep it all within the bounds of a song.

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The music drifted back down to earth only during Landreth’s vocal turns. Though an adequate singer on record (where he’s surrounded by the bombast of a full band), his raw vocals were merely distracting in this solo setting. Landreth is most articulate when his guitar is doing the talking.


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