One of my favorite Sonny Landreth moments was hearing him perform the instrumental “Z Attack” at a Wednesday at the Square concert, as the raw electricity of his sound and the percussive nature of his riff sounded even bigger and fuller as it banged off the CBD office building walls. For the most part, Elemental Journey is made for people who value those occasions and brittle beauty of Landreth’s guitar sound. It’s an instrumental album, and even though it ambles on occasion in the direction of prog, it’s generally rooted in South Louisiana and the blues.
It opens with “Gaia Tribe,” a pounder akin to “Z Attack” with Dave Ranson’s bass giving it solid roots. Joe Satriani makes a guest appearance on the track, and he provides an excellent foil. Here and throughout Elemental Journey, Landreth’s love of gliding, sustained notes sets the tone, and neither Satriani nor Eric Johnson during his guest spot fill their songs with what Frank Zappa once called “little tiny notes.”
The track also features the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra, which plays on a number of compositions. Sam Broussard wrote the string parts, and while they’re fine, they don’t add things I value. For me, they and keyboard player Steve Conn nudge songs down a proggy path, but I expect others will say they add beauty, majesty and depth to the tracks.
Eventually, the album hits a stretch where the compositions themselves are situated where South of I-10 meets The Shire, but even then Landreth’s melodic sense and serrated tone keep the romance real, even when shimmery castles in the sky are forming in the background.
In press notes for the album, Landreth says, “One of the things I’ve always loved about a good instrumental song is that it can be more impressionistic and abstract,” Landreth notes. “Though melody is always important, it’s even more significant with an instrumental. So what I wanted to achieve was something more thematic with lots of melodies and with a chordal chemistry that was harmonically rich.” I’d argue that he’s at his best when he’s more concrete, but after 2008’s From the Reach and its immersion in the blues, it’s tough to quibble with Landreth exploring other facets of his remarkable talents.