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3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars

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It's taken me a long time to get around to reviewing this album, and that's because it's taken me an awful long time to get around to enjoying this album. If you're a newcomer to Sonny Landreth's music then I don't suggest you start here. Begin with South of I-10 or Levee Town (Remastered + Bonus Disc)to best experience the intensely complex interweaving of slide-guitar, southern sounds and philosophical lyrics - or try From The Reach for a more commercial collection with plenty of superstar guest appearances.

Elemental Journey is an entirely different experience. It feels like an album for people who are already intimately acquainted with Sonny's sublime style of Strat-slide, for whom the familiar flourishes and complex fingerwork elicit echoes of much-loved melodies. And it's entirely instrumental which is more than a little challenging at times - without the firm ground of lyrics to guide the listener towards the core of each composition. Rather than the songwriter sharing (baring) his soul in obvious fashion, the instrumental demands rather more of the listener. The tracks become open far more to personal interpretation, so pretty much you get out what you put in. Having said that, I deeply missed the moments of perfection which have graced all of Sonny's previous albums, where words met music in an ideal instant and fused into that magical thing... no matter how good the music on this album, it has to make do without those instants of pure poetry.
As usual, my least favourite tracks are those where the guest guitarists and Sonny seem to be competing rather than collaborating. Satch is unmistakable on 'Gaia Tribe' but it's one of the hardest tracks to engage with on an emotional level, despite its sweeping musical landscape. Eric Johnson's contribution to 'Passionola' is far more comfortable, where the two styles complement each other and create a satisfying whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.
For me, the album would have been better starting with the second track, 'For You and Forever', where Sonny melds a nimble dance of elfin elegance with a satisfying, uplifting core theme. Similarly, 'Wonderide' is an inspiring slice of pure Sonny-sound, only enhanced by the subtle addition of the string accompaniment from the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra. Likewise, I've become accustomed to the addition of steel drums on 'Forgotten Story', not an obvious choice of instrument but there's a glorious overlap in the tremolo tone of both the drums and the Strat. 'Letting Go' is lovely; a wistful development of a deceptively simple melody with a gorgeous timbre to its perfectly paced central solo. 'Reckless Beauty' is one for the live fans - a typical brash and fast, foot-tappin' frenzy.
The best is, inevitably, saved until last, and the final track 'Opening Sky' is the only one on this album which has curled its tendrils fully into my innards. Discord and harmony; notes warping with teeth-tingling sharp edges; a powerful development of the theme to its compelling catharsis - with Sonny's neat trick of subverting your expectations and not quite going in the direction you expect, yet still reaching an emotional peak that leaves you wanting it to never stop. It's on my list of fave Sonny tracks of all time, that one. The CD doesn't leave the player without at least two spins of Track 11...

One slight disappointment is that Dave Ransom's bass is a long way back in the mix on most of this album. Without doubt, Sonny is the star of this bottle rocket trio, but Ransom's always worth listening out for. This time, you have to do a lot of listening. Also absent in the main are Sonny's famous 'ghost notes', the spooky, behind-the-glass slices of surreal sound that capture the attention - you'll know when you hear them, because you'll find you've been holding your breath.
So, like I said, not an easy album to enjoy initially. Over time I've grown to like more of it - but equally every time I play it I'm prompted to dig out an older Sonny CD and listen to that immediately after. Because, no matter how technically accomplished it is, where Elemental Journey succeeds the most is in reminding you what's missing from it.
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VINE VOICEon 31 May 2012
I cannot believe that it's been 4 years since the last outing from the slidemaester - which in itself had been a relatively long time coming....but then I guess quality cannot be rushed!
So what have we got here then? One neat little package of instrumentals which, in view of who is helping out, doesn't surprise one bit but, make no mistake, this sound could have been generated by no other exponent of the slide guitar! Beautiful in it's sound and crisp in it's delivery, it will tickle the taste buds of afficianados and newbies alike!
Opening with Gaia Tribe, Sonny sets about laying down the foundations for the rest of the album with one Mr Satriani taking up an aggresive duelling role, a track that doubtless will get a lot of airplay on Planet Rock, simply due to Mr S alone - but that would be completely wrong as this album is all about Sonny and the different kinds of music that have influenced his style over the years!
Running on we get Heavy Heart Rising, the title track itself and Opening Sky all clearly showing off the virtuosity of all the musicians involved in making this quality product.
So, well worth the wait - You Betcha! Whatever your taste in music, I think that you will find more than enough here to keep your attention for (hopefully) less than the 4 years it may take before the next album sees the light of day.....!
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on 1 June 2012
I'm thoroughly enjoying getting into this moody, subtle new work from Sonny Landreth. There's a lot going on in the guitar work and a close listen reveals some truly excellent playing. Lots of interesting, diverse keys and orchestration provide plenty of variety and a departure from the stripped-down, three-piece sound on earlier works like "Outward Bound" and "South of I10". Despite the first appearance of a laid-back, almost at times mournful approach, the playing and arrangements are complex and enticing. There's clearly been a great deal of thought concerning the structure of the songs which are more varied than previous instrumental pieces on earlier albums.

The stand-out tracks for me are "Wonderide" and "Elemental Journey". I love the staccato strings in "Wonderide", and the laconic but rocking approach in "Elemental Journey".

It may be that there's no knock-out "Back to Bayou Teche"-style 'hit' on here, but that misses the point. This is a beautiful and mature sound journey which for me really pushes the boundaries of slide playing on a guitar.
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on 4 June 2013
Not as good as any of his previous albums; in fact it is a new departure, with a different direction taken. It is O.K., but not one of his best.
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on 16 October 2013
Some great playing from Sonny but many of the songs are a bit weak. Totally instrumental though which I prefer.
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on 19 October 2014
Enjoyed this - new music to me. Like Joe S. and Eric J. and this all sounds good.
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The fact that this is an instrumental album and that Sonny "hand-picked" the guests, Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson, tells you all you need to know - this is a self-indulgent album of noodling, albeit well-produced and immaculately played noodling. If this was a sound track album I can see that the tracks would add atmosphere and mood but it isn't and I'm afraid that I found it all pretty boring. Sonny is an amazing slide guitarist, technically brilliant but I need more than just virtuosity - like tunes and feeling and once again I found this all very bland and I felt I'd heard all these sounds and licks before on his other albums.

I originally opted for `Wonderide' as my favourite track as it reminded me a little of my all-time favourite Sonny Landreth track `Zydeco Shuffle' but it seemed to lose its way half way through and fizzle out. So instead I'll go for `Forgotten story' where playing with steel drum player Robert Greenidge is at least trying something different and adding a new sound.
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on 12 January 2015
excellent listening.
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on 27 October 2012
This is technically extraordinary but there is no soul to this stuff. I agree wth the previous reviewer who gave 3 stars. In any case I have met Landreth on tour in Europe recently and he is such an arrogant guy that I can't really see why he would have any other input than aloofness in his music.
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on 12 March 2015
fab album
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