Michael Landau may not yet be a household name but you can guarantee that every household in the western world has played host to his guitar playing. Along with Dan Huff and Steve Lukather, Landau was responsible for virtually every Los Angeles recorded mega-hit from a guitar point of view in the 80’s and 90’s. From Mariah Carey to Pavarotti to Tim McGraw, his work as a session musician has garnered a huge amount of respect in the industry. When James Taylor or Joni Mitchell need a touring guitarist it’s also Mike Landau that is the first choice. Within the guitar community he is spoken of with hushed reverence, a ‘now we’re talking’ nod, a musicians musician, a guitarists guitarist. So, it is with great expectation that play is pressed on track 1, ‘Squirrels’, of Landau’s latest, and sixth solo offering on Mascot Label Group – Rock Bottom.
It’s Alan Hertz drums that welcome ‘Squirrels’ in, followed by David Frazee’s delicate jazzy, bluesy vocal. Developing through a palette of expansive flavours, the track requires several listens to appreciate. Listen is the keyword here, this music is devoid of ‘fast-food-grab-it-now’ instant satisfaction. This music requires you to listen, not with your eyes, not with preconceived recognition triggers. Just listen. For patience and humbleness, you will be rewarded with grand mastery and sophistication.
Trademark Landau sonic production, with an underlying ‘darkness and troubles’ ambience, the whole thing has a vibe, a feeling, which is not detrimental or off-putting in any way. When Landau plays you are hit with probably the best ever guitar tone, Hendrix inspired but advanced to encompass more control, more restraint. With any great virtuoso, it’s what isn’t played, or what could be played ( but isn’t ) that makes the genius. Like Miles’ trumpet, Buddy Rich’s snare, Aretha’s ‘Give Him Something He Can Feel’, you know you are in the presence of a great talent. The niche nature of the music prevents the worldwide acclaim, however. Now, I prefer niche to mainstream. I like to be challenged.
Second song ‘Bad Friend’ is an ‘angry Jimi’ on a Monday morning, shouty, aggressive neck pickup Strat rawness. Brother Teddy Landau’s bass brings in ‘Gettin Old’, a blues with hypnotic typical Mike Landau vocal melded to that glorious tone and note choice once again. Lyrically Landau calls in on long-term collaborator Frazee, which for Landau fans brings welcome familiarity. Here the ‘Burning Water’ days are remembered but revitalised for a modern age. Recorded initially on tape and transferred to digital Rock Bottom feels slick, cool and urban, full of personality and subtle quirks.
It is reluctant guitar hero Landau that propels the whole thing along, however. Just like Jeff Beck, it’s impossible not to be spellbound by the depth of creativity. There are many ‘million notes a bar’ players out there right now, who receive praise and plaudits every time they push the accelerator. In a fickle world, some are easily impressed by speed and dexterity. Landau uses dynamic, space and flashes of only when necessary speed, rather than showing all his cards at once.
‘One Tear Away’ brings a fuzz bass slow blues with a wonderful dissonant weaving Hammond line, whilst ‘Poor Dear’ is a mid-album track with a slightly forgettable lyric held together by Landau’s guitar glue. The jazzy ‘Freedom’ spotlights a gracefully spectacular keys solo and that brooding, ambient sonic prevails once more. Not just a guitarist, Landau is an artist and a songwriter, composer and arranger. The artistry shines on New Orleans tinged ‘Heaven In The Alley’ and the definitive Landau style oozes through the swampy beats. ‘ Rock Bottom’ is brought to a close with the tenth and final track ‘Speak now, make your peace’, a spoken lyric, a hint of an anti-climax, but still full of spice and intrigue.
‘Rock Bottom’ is witnessing a master craftsman bespoke his latest wares, not for those with narrow minds, but for those who see faces in clouds and dream in technicolour. A walk in Michael Landau’s world is an Alice In Wonderland journey through invention and alchemy with constant admiration for a unique and underrated artist.
Pendragon for Bluesdoodles gives ‘Rock Bottom‘ a white rabbit
EIGHTdoodle paws out of TEN …
Out via Mascot Label Group
- Bad Friend
- Gettin Old
- We All Feel The Same
- We’re Alright
- One Tear Away
- Poor Dear
- Heaven In The Alley
- Speak Now Make Your Peace
Michael Landau -Guitar & Vocals
David Frazee – Vocals
Alan Hertz – Drums
Teddy Landau – Bass