Provogue/Mascot Label Group
When you hear the name Eric Johnson, an all-acoustic, guitar and piano-driven record is the last thing you would expect. But the sign of a truly gifted artist is successfully taking the leap into unchartered waters, and that is precisely what Johnson has done on his latest album, EJ. A fan of acoustic and folk music since he was young, it only seemed natural that Johnson would return to those roots with a fresh, more vulnerable approach to explore that side of his musical stylings. Johnson recorded majority of the songs live, sometimes playing and singing simultaneously, giving the listener a true feel for the music in its purest, most intimate form. Citing influences from a wide-ranging set of singer/songwriters and guitarists including Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Paul Simon/Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, to name a few, Johnson’s self-produced, 13-track release (nine of which he recorded unaccompanied) draws something from each of these musical giants while adding his own spin and style. Johnson plays a 1980 Martin D-45 given to him by his late father on five of the 13 songs.
Highlights include covers of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” and “Scarborough Fair/Canticle,” both beautifully executed, the former acoustic no vocal and the latter a lovely vocal with intense piano accompaniment. “Once Upon A Time In Texas” smacks strongly of Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas” while the Jimi Hendrix cover of “One Rainy Wish” is transformed into a stripped-down, jazzier version of the original with echoes of Bread’s “I Want To Make it With You” and subtle hints of Crosby, Stills & Nash. There is some stellar piano work from Johnson on this one as well as on the doleful “November,” which also boasts mournful violin from Molly Emerman. “The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise,” a duet with Doyle Dykes, is a fun, up-tempo picker number that will have you foot-tapping in no time, while “Song For Irene” slows things down and spotlights Johnson’s own picking finesse. “Fatherly Downs,” the ballad-driven “Wonder” and “All Things You Are,” and the Latin-tinged “Serinidad” all continue to showcase Johnson’s guitar prowess, while “Water Under The Bridge” allows Johnson’s piano skills to shine. Undeniably, my favorite track in the collection is “Wrapped In A Cloud,” a piece that builds to a soaring crescendo with cello, bass and drum accents.
It is indeed a refreshing treat to hear Eric Johnson in this intimate, acoustic setting, almost as if he is playing for you and you alone, up close and personal. His versatility and genius as a musician truly sparkle, and the good news is, he will be working on Volume Two next year as a follow-up.