The very announcement of a (largely) solo acoustic album from Eric Johnson is enough to startle fans of the Texas bluesman as well as those who know him only by name and a little of his tenure as a contemporary guitar hero. Hearing EJ: Song Explorations on Acoustic Guitar and Piano will no doubt dazzle those in both camps.
That's because even in his use of a non-electrified fretboard instrument, with occasional utilization of acoustic piano, Johnson's able to retain the taut tenor of authentic blues. And he's able to accomplish that on nouveau folk material like Paul Simon's "Mrs. Robinson" (yes, the song from the film The Graduate!) and a ghostly keyboard cum vocal arrangement of "Scarborough Fair"/Canticle."
During "Water Under the Bridge" and "Wonder," the Austin Texas-based musician displays the same delicacy in his singing as in the circular acoustic guitaring. As producer he captures both attributes he with a sparkling clarity plus an enveloping size of sound, captured at Saucer Sound Studios, which tremendously benefits this cover of Jimi Hendrix' "One Rainy Wish:" the mix of instruments combined with Johnson's singingnot quite so nuanced as his guitaring, but close!-conjures up almost as much languorous atmosphere as the originalthe iconic author might be a bit envious!
As arresting as are those tracks though, they can't compare to the compelling likes of the aforementioned instrumentals or especially "Once Upon A Time in Texas," which, unfortunately, seems to be over almost as soon as it begins. There's hardly a higher compliment when it comes to instrumental music of any kind, unless it's to state the artist leaves his listeners hungry for more, but Eric Johnson's careful not to indulge himself here in the form of extended performances; there are a baker's dozen tracks on Song Explorations on Acoustic Guitar and Piano in a total running time of approximately an hour.
Among those cuts, only the sprightly reel titled "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise" sounds facile for its own sake (but guitarists will be astounded at the technical facility of it!). In contrast, "November" appears at just the right time in the track sequencing, the single cello of John Hagen slightly in the background,well-contoured, to the piano foundation Johnson maintains. "All Things You Are" is similarly sculpted with restraint and leads almost inextricably to a finale in the form of "Song For Irene," a mesmerizing guitar-only piece that reaffirms all the virtues inherent in EJ.
Mrs. Robinson; Water Under the Bridge; Wonder; Wrapped In A Cloud; Once Upon a Time in Texas; One Rainy Wish; Serinidad; Fatherly Downs; The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise; November; All Things You Are; Scarborough Fair; Song for Irene.
Eric Johnson: acoustic guitars, piano; Doyle Dykes: guitar; Molly Emerman: violin; John Hagen: cello; Roscoe Beck: acoustic bass; Chris Maresh: acoustic bass; Tommy Taylor:drums; Wayne Salzmann: drums.