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Eric Johnson

Up Close – Another Look

Provogue /Mascot

Johnson is well renowned for his guitar skills and ability to play in different styles and moods. However this set / re-visit of material has a pronounced blues and roots edge that deserves to widen his appeal beyond those who also play the guitar.  In conversation I had with rock guitar maestro Wilko Johnson last week we were talking about famous guitar players and in particular the technique displayers and speed merchants out there at present. In his inimitable way, Wilk sighed and leaned back on his sofa, sighing ‘Trouble is, Pete – all these flashy players sound exactly the same !!’

Eric Johnson has more than speed going for him. Of all the admired technical players he is one of the best creators of moods – sometimes good-natured, sometimes yearning, occasionally harsh and now and then incredibly sad. On this album we get a taste of all these. No wonder he is a pal of Sonny Landreth !

The promo cd came with excellent notes but not a pointer as to who guests on what. Nonetheless my ears detect the prince of rock nobility Steve Miller singing out on the downhome blues workout ‘Texas’ and then the dry and driving rasp of Johnny Lang vocalising through the dynamic blues rocker ‘Austin’ as Johnson lays linear bursts of singing axework all over this great number. We have arrived here via the moody and eastern-tinged opener ‘Awaken’ where the listeners could be staring out over a misty Ganges river, to be whisked into the buzzy and key-shifting instrumental ‘Fatdaddy’ which uses exotic scales and a snakecharmer twist of a melody, all underpinned by nimble electric bass. I’d like to ask Eric whether he had Mahavishnu Orchestra in his head when he wrote and played this – I suspect so and I’ll fish for a chance.

‘Brilliant Room’ has more linear lines plus an edgy vocal and guitar tones to savour.  More than recalling the Satriani’s and Vai’s of the AxeWorld, THIS cut has touch of the slightly unearthly tones used by English guitar man Andy Summers on his criminally overlooked solo album outings. Again one suspects Johnson would be familiar with the same. ‘Gem’ has a compressed guitar sound and a baroque stately tempo, as if it was meant to accompany a film soundtrack. This is where Johnson’s own distinctive phrasing and pinch harmonics make the music truly his, through and through. A cool listen indeed.
We are out in the countryside for the trippy guitar weave of ‘On The Way’ and halfway through the programme it’s a nice detour into Albert Lee/Brad Paisley territory ; ‘Arithmetic’ sounds a tad philosophical, like a poem set to pastoral music shot through with flashes of sixstring magic. I would have made this a male-female vocal duet to warm up the overall feel, it’s a touch solemn.

‘The Sea & The Mountain’ is another sound painting recalling Landreth’s recent instrumental forays. Understated beauty. ‘Vortexan’ is an athletic boogie variant but still sounds pure Johnson.

Up to now on this record Eric has kept his Hendrix influences at bay but they filter through on the charming lilt of ‘A Change Has Come To Me’ which may be autobiographical….one thing to mention – few players use flanging quite as well as Eric does here. Neat bridge and a clutch of blissful legato tones drift from speaker to speaker. Maybe no accident that this might have been a Johnny Lang song.

So..a well-known technical player that I have never been particular taken by makes an album that connects far better. With me at least. It’s the songs, y’see.  Better not dismiss Eric Johnson as a cold techno guy when he can put this set together

Pete Sargeant

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