ERIC JOHNSON – Up Close (2010)
Praised as one of the “very few musical artists to achieve a true signature style which makes comparisons to other musicians impossible, an extraordinary guitar player accessible to ordinary music fans”, Eric Johnson is back with a new album; “Up Close”.
Johnson is a notorious perfectionist in the studio, so his subsequent releases have been infrequent, and he has been known to scrap whole parts of an album and start over.
It was 1990 when he released the album that really cemented his reputation, the fantastic ‘Ah Via Musicom’, which won Johnson a Grammy Award for best rock instrumental.
Subsequent studio albums came in 1996 and 2005, with some live recordings and collections of previously recorded material released in the meantime.
“Up Close” is a triumphant return to the glorious sound of ‘Ah Via Musicom’ encompassing style draws from classic rock, blues, pop and his unique, beautiful harmonies.
The Texas fret-man gives us more of his impressive fiery but tasteful playing, and his trademark layers of often shimmering guitar sounds.
The title reflects the revelatory and spontaneous performances on the album as well as its sonic immediacy thanks to a mix by legendary veteran engineer Andy Johns.
“I decided to let go a bit and allow things to happen and just go with the flow”, explains Johnson of his approach to the album. “I like my work to have a high proficiency, but I also wanted to go for the energy and magic of the performances.”
Although Johnson is an appealing vocalist with a high airy tenor, he is joined by a trio of guest singers, with the best known being veteran rocker Steve Miller.
“Up Close” also features a trio of guest guitarists, including Jimmy Vaughan and Sonny Landreth.
The spacey “Awaken” serves as an introduction to a rocking instrumental called “Fat Daddy”, which kicks in with the trademark Eric Johnson sound, marked by his colorful palette of guitar sounds, and clean, tight playing
The first of the vocals tracks is called “Brilliant Room”, sung by Malford Milligan. It’s a strong energy rocker with all the melody we expect from Eric.
A definite highlight of the album is a track named “Texas”, a vintage blues tune by Buddy Miles and Mike Bloomfield. A slow blues seems almost the opposite of what one expects from the fast and fiery Eric Johnson. But he proves he can play the blues with the best, and throw in lots of interesting musical ideas, in the context of his impressive guitar work.
A piece that might be considered a follow-up to Johnson’s Grammy-winning tune ‘Cliffs of Dover’ is the next track called “Gem”. There’s a lot of those instantly recognizable Eric Johnsonisms, the layered guitars and the kind of athletic jumps in pitch in his melodic lines.
Another guest vocalist on the album is Jonny Lang, who was something of a prodigy himself on guitar, though he only sings here. The tune is called “Austin” and it seems autobiographical.
“Soul Surprise” is another great Eric’s tour-the-force guitar fest.
Johnson throws in a little country-style guitar on the next track titled “On the Way”, which features Steve Henning as guest guitarist.
We finally get to hear Johnson sing on “Arithmetic”, it combines a kind of sentimental mood with Johnson’s cornucopia of guitars.
“Vortexan” is one of these classic Eric’s boogie-rockin’ tunes with a lot of fun and rhythm.
I love “A Change Has Come To Me”, a lovely, sweet song that reminds me ‘Ah Via Musicom’.
The CD ends with an easy-listening style pop song ballad called “Your Book”, emotional and deep.
“Up Close” came five years after his last studio recording, and for the notoriously perfectionist Johnson, that’s a relatively short time.
But among the many fans of his guitar work (including me), it was a long wait.
But worth it. His guitar work is as impressive as ever, both in terms of his playing and his guitar sounds. The added guests are a nice touch too.
“Up Close” strongly resemble his early work, and that’s what the fans were waiting for.
01 – Awaken
02 – Fatdaddy
03 – Brilliant Room [vocals: Malford Milligan]
04 – Texas [vocals: Steve Miller, guitar: Jimmie Vaughan]
05 – Gem
06 – Traverse
07 – Austin [vocals: Jonny Lang]
08 – Soul Surprise
09 – On The Way [guitar: Steve Henning]
10 – Arithmetic
11 – The Sea And The Mountain
12 – Vortexan
13 – A Change Has Come To Me
14 – Change (revisited)
15 – Your Book [guitar: Sonny Landreth]
Eric Johnson : Guitars, Vocals
Roscoe Beck : Bass
Kyle Brock : Bass
Tommy Taylor : Drums
and many more…
IF YOU LIKE IT, BUY IT!