Up Close

Eric Johnson

The distinct guitar stylings of Eric Johnson never cease to astound, amaze and entertain. Back in the late 80s, he was lumped in with the Joe Satriani and Steve Vai School of fancy guitar pyrotechnics. But the native Texan is less about taking an acrobatic approach to his instrument, and pretty much all about tone and grace. Gliding somewhere in between Allan Holdsworth, Steve Hackett and maybe a pinch of Mark Knopfler, Johnson is harmonious and fluid with occasional growls that’ll lift you up from your seat. On Up Close, his sixth studio release, the guitarist is joined by a few special friends to take you even higher.

“Awaken” opens the CD on a stellar note, a brief swill of volume swells before that slippery tone picks up and shags it all over “Fatdaddy.” Johnson takes his first vocal on “Brilliant Room,” opposite Malford Milligan, a fellow Texan soul singer who co-founded Storyville (which included Stevie Ray Vaughn’s rhythm section). “Texas,” a slow blues written by Buddy Miles and Mike Bloomfield, features Johnson restrained yet easily swayed into the flow with help from guitarist Jimmie Vaughn and guest vocalist Steve Miller. In truth, Johnson has never sounded fatter and rawer.

Johnson takes flight on “Gem,” then employs a number of effects to launch “Traverse,” which quickly segues into “Austin,” where the guitarist is joined by Jonny Lang (only on vocals). This proves to be a showcase of Johnson’s effervescent guitar antics, panning back and forth from speaker to speaker, ready to take the verses even further. “Soul Surprise” is a hop, skip and jump over a joyful chord progression that has Johnson scrambling for ever higher ground. From the country pickin’ on “On The Way” to the new age earthiness of “The Sea And The Mountain” to the barebones honesty of “Your Book” — Johnson lays it all out, his diverse range as a guitarist exposed, as well as his vocals, a prominent and tuneful instrument all its own. As a package, Up Close is an up-close representation of Eric Johnson, a mixed bag of oblique instrumental prowess counter-balanced by samples of easy listening fare, giving the listener the complete and total picture.

~ Shawn Perry

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