Bubbling under the surface of known commodities in the guitar world for far too long, Los Angeles-based Michael Landau has been one of those robust and distinctive electric guitar stylists. When not making a living as a versatile studio musician who occasionally got gigs with the likes of Joni Mitchell, Landau has also quietly (and loudly) put his instrument through artful places in regional fusion-esque bands with names like Dog Cheese. Over the years, he has alternately been a cult hero, an underdog in guitar circles, a widely heard member of the session musician elite and a mid-career guitarist who has developed a sound worth hearing.
Landau’s new two-disc live encounter with his band, recorded at the Baked Potato—where fusion still has a home in L.A.—offers a solid introduction to his guitaring, composition and understated vocal style (his least developed skill, but it fits the bill of the singing guitar wizard). Joined by a cast of rotating musicians, including L.A. drummer Gary Novak, keyboardist Scott Kinsey and bassist Jimmy Johnson, Landau works out in various directions on mostly original compositions, swerving between raging jazz-flavored blues-rock (“Worried Life Blues,” “Underwear”) to atmospheric (“The Mighty SB,” “Untitled”).
At times, his playing hints at Jeff Beck’s every-note-and-nuance-counts approach. Elsewhere, the torrential Allan Holdsworth-ish note-pour is the operative vibe, and he can also channel Henrdrix in his own special way. But he always manages to play his guitar with meaning, sass, taste and heat, all the while maintaining the soul of a romantic. Painterly, expressive electric guitar playing isn’t dead yet, after all.