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After a dozen acclaimed albums, virtuoso slide guitarist and bandleader Sonny Landreth found himself at an artistic crossroads. He wanted to finally create the full-length acoustic collection his fans had long requested. But he was also itching to capture the sound of his stalwart electric trio augmented by a couple of his favorite collaborators. And the time was certainly right for an elastic, career-spanning double-live album.
So Landreth and his longtime friends decided to do it all. ‘Recorded Live in Lafayette’ is a 16-song opus that covers more musical ground than any single album ever could, as the singer and songwriter’s work stretches and twists across 93 minutes of full-band acoustic and electric bottleneck lightning.
The double CD and vinyl release on Provogue, which includes the most extensive acoustic set ever recorded by Landreth, opens with acoustic arrangements of the artist’s tunes dating back to the 1981 title cut of his debut album, ‘Blues Attack.’ “It gives you a chance to explore those songs in a different way,” Landreth says, describing the textures created by the intersection of Dave Ranson’s ukulele bass, Brian Brignac’s cajón, Steve Conn’s accordion and Sam Broussard’s acoustic guitar. “The familiarity is there,” he adds, ”but I also wanted to turn those guys loose as much as possible.”
The double album arrives on the heels of the Grammy nominee’s back-to-back Blues Music Awards for Best Guitarist and Best Blues Album for ‘Bound by the Blues.’ Live favorites “Hell at Home” and “U.S.S. Zydecoldsmobile” also get the unplugged treatment, alongside a rare rendition of “Creole Angel” and an evergreen 6:47 amble through “Key to the Highway.” “If I’ve ever had a theme song, that would be it,” Landreth explains. “All of my heroes have done it, and it’s still to me one of the greatest blues tunes ever written. It’s kind of like coming home.”
Landreth has collaborated with the very top names in guitar over the years: Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Eric Johnson, Derek Trucks – the list goes on. The noted slideman cut his musical teeth in The Red Hot Louisiana Band of zydeco king Clifton Chenier, and Landreth has since recorded and toured with artists ranging from John Mayall to John Hiatt. ‘Recorded Live in Lafayette’ adds another major chapter to his tale, as new vocal and instrumental colors emerge, with guitarist Sam Broussard providing brilliant musical counterpoint to Landreth’s innovative playing on songs like “A World Away.” “There’s nothing like a slow minor blues,” Landreth says. “I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful.” Referencing Conn and Broussard’s contributions to his composition, he adds, “This track has one of the greatest accordion blues solos of all time, only to be followed by one of the greatest acoustic blues guitar solos of all time. I’m blown away, and we never plotted out who was gonna play where on what.”
“Bound by the Blues” and “The High Side” chronicle Landreth’s inspirations and adventures, rounding out the acoustic set by showcasing Landreth’s work on a pair of unique resonator guitars – a custom-engraved Beltona given to him by Knopfler and a Larry Pogreba custom featuring a 1950s Oldsmobile hubcap.
The encore-level intensity of Landreth’s tour de force tale of romance leading him “Back to Bayou Teche” opens the electric proceedings, before the playlist floats into the ethereal sting of “True Blue.” Conn’s Hammond organ snakes through the second disc, adding the dimensionality he’s provided to countless Landreth performances over the years.
A triptych of instrumentals kicks off with the soaring “Milky Way Home,” which brings the range of Landreth’s longtime trio mates Ranson and Brignac into high relief. “‘Brave New Girl’ is my favorite among my instrumentals,” Landreth notes. “Live, it’s become joined at the hip with ‘Überesso,’ even though they first appeared on different albums. ‘Brave New Girl’ is probably the most complex and nuanced instrumental piece I’ve ever done, and it’s a good example of how, if you have a song you believe in, then the interpretation with a three-piece band opens up all these spaces, dynamics, and a range of emotions. And then at the apex of that we segue into ‘Überesso,’ so it’s back-to-back the two most difficult songs for me to play.”
“Soul Salvation” eases the tempo for a swaying slow dance. Landreth wrote the song for his mother many years ago, and he and Ranson played it at her memorial service just a few months before tracking ‘Recorded Live in Lafayette,’ which is dedicated to her memory. “Walking Blues” returns her Mississippi-born son to a Delta stomp before the double-album’s surprise ending: Conn leading the band for “The One and Only Truth,” a tip of the hat to his mother’s advice about going for broke.
“If you get your best friends together, you might well find the magic,” Landreth muses. “And what better way to end a hometown gig than with an accordion playing a fuel-injected double shuffle?”
Landreth’s co-producer Tony Daigle recorded the three shows through a 48-channel API 1608 console that had just been used by U2 and was freighted down courtesy of the company’s president/owner Larry Droppa. The different CD and vinyl packages were created by Grammy-nominated graphic designer Megan Barra, and Landreth will support the release with trio dates as well as duo collaborations with gifted lap slide guitarist Cindy Cashdollar.
“I don’t take opportunities like this for granted, and I wanted to feature everybody that’s in the band,” Landreth emphasizes. “I hope that as part of this celebration of music from so many years of my life that we also shed some light on each of them. You can look up their work and you’re in for one hell of a ride.”
“Fifty years have passed in a flash,” says Texas-born, Louisiana-raised pianist, songwriter and vocalist Marcia Ball of her long and storied career. Ball, the 2018 Texas State Musician Of The Year, has won worldwide fame and countless fans for her ability to ignite a full-scale roadhouse rhythm and blues party every time she takes the stage. Her rollicking Texas boogies, swampy New Orleans ballads and groove-laden Gulf Coast blues have made her a one-of-a-kind favorite with music lovers all over the world. With each new release, her reputation as a profoundly soulful singer, a boundlessly talented pianist and a courageous, inventive songwriter continues to grow. Her love of the road has led to years of soul-satisfying performances at festivals, concert halls and clubs. The New York Times says, “Marcia Ball plays two-fisted New Orleans barrelhouse piano and sings in a husky, knowing voice about all the trouble men and women can get into on the way to a good time.” The Houston Chronicle says simply, “She’s as perfect as an artist can be.”
With her new album, Shine Bright, Ball set out to, in her words, “Make the best Marcia Ball record I could make.” In doing so, she has put together the most musically substantial, hopeful and uplifting set of songs of her five-decade career. Produced by Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) and recorded in Texas and Louisiana, Shine Bright contains twelve songs (including nine originals), ranging from the title track’s rousing appeal for public and private acts of courage to the upbeat call to action of Pots And Pans, a song inspired by renowned Texas political writer and humorist Molly Ivins. From the humorous advice of Life Of The Party to the poignantly optimistic World Full Of Love, the intensity of Ball’s conviction never wavers while, simultaneously, the fun never stops. Shine Bright is exactly the album Ball set out to make. “It is a ridiculously hopeful, cheerful record,” she says, in light of some of the album’s more serious subject matter. The secret, according to Ball “is to set the political songs to a good dance beat.”
When Freda And The Firedogs broke up in 1974, Ball launched her solo career, playing clubs around Austin, Houston and Louisiana. She signed with Capitol Records in 1978, debuting with the country-rock album Circuit Queen. Creating and honing her own sound, she released six critically acclaimed titles on the Rounder label during the 1980s and 1990s. In 1990, Ball—collaborating with Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton—recorded the hugely successful Dreams Come True on the Antone’s label. At the end of 1997, Marcia finished work on a similar “three divas of the blues” project for Rounder, this time in the distinguished company of Tracy Nelson and her longtime inspiration, Irma Thomas. The CD, Sing It!, was released in 1998 and was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Marcia Ball has appeared many times on national television over the years, including the PBS special In Performance At The White House along with B.B. King and Della Reese, Austin City Limits and HBO’s Treme. She performed in Piano Blues, the film directed by Clint Eastwood included in Martin Scorsese’s The Blues series which aired on PBS television nationwide in 2003. Marcia also appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman with The New Orleans Social Club, where she not only reached millions of people, but also helped to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. In 2012, she had a role in the independent film Angels Sing starring Harry Connick, Jr., Lyle Lovett and Willie Nelson. In 2017 she performed on NPR’s A Jazz Piano Christmas, live from The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Ball joined Alligator in 2001 with the release of the critically acclaimed Presumed Innocent. The CD won the 2002 Blues Music Award for Blues Album Of The Year. Her follow-up, So Many Rivers, was nominated for a Grammy Award, and won the 2004 Blues Music Award for Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year as well as the coveted Contemporary Blues Female Artist Of The Year award. Her next release, Live! Down The Road, released in 2005, also garnered a Grammy nomination, as did 2008’s Peace, Love & BBQ (the album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart). 2010’s Grammy-nominated Roadside Attractions and 2014’s The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man successfully grew her fan base even further. Altogether she holds ten Blues Music Awards, ten Living Blues Awards, and five Grammy Award nominations. She has been inducted into both the Gulf Coast Music Hall Of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame. The Texas State legislature named her the official 2018 Texas State Musician. As her hometown Austin Chronicle says, “What’s not to like about Marcia Ball?”
Since joining Alligator, Ball has blossomed as a songwriter. Each album has been filled with fresh, original songs, never more so than on Shine Bright. Ball easily draws her listeners deep into her music with instantly memorable melodies and imaginative imagery. Her songs paint vibrant musical pictures richly detailed with recognizable characters, regional flavors, universal themes and colorful scenes, both real and imagined. Living Blues declares, “Her originals sound like timeless classics and southern soul masterpieces that no one else can imitate.”
Now, with Shine Bright, Ball’s new, aggressively hopeful songs are energized by Steve Berlin’s inventive and exciting production, creating electrifying music that is daring, inspired, poignant and timely. The Boston Globe calls Ball “a compelling storyteller” who plays “an irresistible, celebratory blend of rollicking, two-fisted New Orleans piano, Louisiana swamp rock and smoldering Texas blues.”
Of course, Ball will bring the party on the road, playing her new songs and old favorites for fans around the globe. “I still love the feel of the wheels rolling,” she says, “and the energy in a room full of people ready to go wherever it is we take them.” With both her new album and her legendary live performances, Marcia Ball will shine a light into the darkness, making the world a brighter place one song at a time.
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