’40 Years’ – Landslide Records’ diverse styles celebrated

I clearly remember the day 24 years ago, driving an icy Vermont highway listening to the Derek Trucks Band’s self-titled debut. Two summers before, Trucks and his band blew my doors off from a trailer bed in a small city park. But the album was altogether different; the brilliance of Trucks’ guitar playing immersed in accomplished jazz-fusion music. Like Jeff Beck and Miles Davis combined, I thought. I also thought that whoever ran the Landslide label has great ears, and had just hit a grand slam. The Derek Trucks Band’s rambunctious rip through John Coltrane’s “Mr. PC” delivers the excitement all over again, in one of the 33 ways spread across Landslide Records’ 40th anniversary collection.

Landslide ignores barriers in style, but the South figures in nearly everything they’ve released. Rightfully so, being based in Atlanta. When Landslide signed him, Tinsley Ellis was already a natural at every aspect of the blues. Sequencing in order the Ellis tracks presented here — one from each of his first three albums — creates fascinating snapshots of the genesis of a blues-rock guitar star. His first album, cut live, features Ellis and singer Chicago Bob Nelson getting down on some deep-dish Muddy Waters, Ellis playing Jimmy Rogers-smooth, but with plenty of Johnny Winter-bite. The second album is billed to Nappy Brown, with Ellis and his Heartfixers providing a big, B.B. King-like sound for Brown’s hair-raising soul shouting. “Drivin’ Woman” then debuts the propulsive blues-rock sound that Ellis ran with, although he’s good for just about anything these days.     

Tedeschi Trucks Band vocalist and songwriter Mike Mattison recorded five albums for Landslide, three of them fronting his atypically soulful, fascinating Scrapomatic band. Mattison writes with rare flair, and sings in unique, burnished tones with mountainous range. His three tracks here include Scrapomatic’s greasy, Delta-jittery “Ain’t Got the Smile,” which may seem light years away from the masterfully-vivid and sad “Midnight in Harlem,” a Tedeschi Trucks Band classic that appears on Mattison’s first solo album. But the shared artistic qualities between the two are apparent and striking, like the effect of paintings hanging in an exclusive gallery exhibition.                          

Listening to Tom Gray sing so joyously about being one of the “Coolest Fools” is beyond moving right now, as Tom lost his brave battle with cancer as I was writing this blurb about him. Delta Moon — the band Gray and slide guitar partner Mark Johnson toured the world with for 20 years — will forever shine as one of the greats that did indeed alter the tide of the blues by playing the form reverently, but without fear of allowing all manner of influences to leak in. But Gray’s roots at Landslide date back to 1982, when his new wave group the Brains released their third platter on the label. “Dancing under Streetlights,” from that EP, typifies their catchy, trendy, pop-rock. Having sold Cyndi Lauper “Money Changes Everything” (not presented here), everything changed for Gray, and he made one of the most successful 180 turns in music history. R.I.P., Tom.    

Paul Barrere cut two albums on Landslide with Catfish Hodge and T. Lavitz as the Bluesbusters when Little Feat went on hiatus following the death of Lowell George. Barrere’s jaunty “Phone Don’t Ring” rings several of those unmistakable Little Feat bells. Oliver Wood of the Wood Brothers was on Landslide two decades ago with his band King Johnson. They absolutely pummel a New Orleans groove here, on “Atlas.” Sean Costello, a bluesman on his way to legendary status before he suddenly passed in 2008, cut his classic self-titled fourth album on Landslide. Costello’s “She Changed My Mind” should have burned up airwaves and living room carpets when it came out. Widespread Panic even released their first album on Landslide. Their cool gallop through J.J. Cale’s “Travelin’ Light” from it foreshadows a signature sound to come.  

Charging, honky-tonkin’ Steam Donkeys fly past retro-swinging Lost Continentals and progressive ‘grassers Blueground Undergrass over the course of this collection. But as far as stylists go, the late Col. Bruce Hampton had no peers. Landslide was founded at Hampton’s urging, his ultra-quirky band The Late Bronze Age the label’s first signing. These days, rockabilly wild man Webb Wilder and the swamp-rockin’ Damon Fowler keep the faith. What a label, and what a way to celebrate it!  

-Tom Clarke

  • 40 Years
  • Landslide Records
  • Anniversary Issue
  • Release: Oct, 29, 2021

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 25 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, Los Lobos, and the Allman Brothers Band and its ever-growing family tree. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Kudzoo, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen have raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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