Gregg Martinez, Soul of the Bayou (Louisiana Red Hot Records)

With his third disc since his return home to Southwest Louisiana, soulster Gregg Martinez has quietly established that he belongs with the best crooners in the state. He’s an egoless peer of legends T.K. Hulin and G.G. Shinn; nationally he’s been compared to Sam Cooke and Luther Vandross. Even his association with Donald Trump when he sang at the moppy-haired’s casino hasn’t tarnished his reputation.

While 2013’s Creole Soul showcased Martinez’s ability to swing with a hot beat, this edition focuses on what he does best: uncovering and delivering gripping, heartbreaking ballads. He’s the rare breed of vocalist who can convince you that the protagonist’s tragedy is really your story, and lines like “A broken heart is afraid to love again” and “These teardrops wouldn’t fall if I had any pride left at all” only affirm his sincerity. On “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” one of three originals heard here, Martinez belts with impressive raw power, shackled by pain and hurt reminiscent of how James Brown emoted on “Please, Please, Please.”

Though there’s heartbreak here, it’s not all about reaching for the Kleenex box. Martinez can lift souls too, whether it’s rockin’ with Sonny Landreth (“That Old Wind”) or joking about the 25 women who once followed him out of the club on the rollicking fish story “Mac Daddy.”

Having a crack band only adds fuel to an already raging fire. Keyboardist Charles Ventre rolls eloquently with the touch of a jazz master; Saxophonist Mike Pollard always has a top shelf solo in store. Another Gregg, Kingston, makes the slide guitar intro of Ann Peebles’ horn-punchy “I Can’t Stand The Rain” distinct from other versions. Once again, Martinez raises the bar.