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Spotlights [Issue # 16 ]
Eric Johnson: The Tone Ranger Rides Again

By Dean Truitt

With the release of Eric Johnson’s Bloom CD, the iconic guitar wizard from Austin, TX returns after a typically long hiatus. Having been nearly a decade since his last studio solo album, Venus Isle, Johnson’s latest seems to find the artist attempting to slightly release the stringent grasp of notorious perfectionism. While it is certainly not the raw feel of most classic rock records, it does seem to possess more unbridled looseness and spontaneity than his previous efforts.

The reclusive six stringer’s ears are legendary wonders and it is no coincidence that his first musical outing was aptly named Tones because Johnson’s uncanny attention to detail has no rival. Allegedly, the meticulous guitarist can hear the sonic difference between what brand of batteries are placed in his effects pedals. One intriguing aspect of Bloom is that Johnson has subdivided the collection into three sections: Prelude, Courante, and Allemande. While the section titles seem to indicate an austere classical feel, the album truly embodies the musician’s great loves: rock, blues, jazz, country, and pop. When asked about the reason behind the sequencing decision, Johnson explains, “I just really wanted to go in and do whatever music was coming up and we originally had 23 songs. I was going to do a double CD, but six, seven, or eight of them were just nothing really. They just weren’t that special and got discarded and I was left with 16 that I liked. When I started to put together the record, the flow just didn’t work. So, it was just suggested by people, ‘Why don’t you just try to group them in vibes?’ So I did that and it’s a little non-standard, but it seems to basically work, so I went with it.” Without a doubt, Eric Johnson has an incredible gift for interpreting the music of other singer/sonngwriters. Having served as a session guitarist for artists ranging from Cat Stevens, Carole King, and Christopher Cross, the Lone Star native can render excitement into virtually anything he plays. On his latest outing, Johnson tackles an unusually upbeat version of Dylan’s classic, “My Back Pages.” In discussing his choice of feel for the recording, he elaborates, “I’ve always kind of liked the tune and I like Bob Dylan a lot. I thought the lyrics to that were really meaningful. It’s already been done before by several different people and I figured it might be neat to just try a totally different treatment rather than do it as a ballad . . . The lyrics have an edge to them and I guess maybe that’s why subliminally I thought about doing a rocked out version of it.” Over the last few years, Johnson has continually revealed his astounding versatility by occasionally touring as a solo acoustic guitarist. The Courante portion of the album affords the Grammy winner to explore a more serene palette of sonic colors. He explains, “That [acoustic tour] was really a good thing for me to do. I guess a few things have happened over the last few years. It made me think more about trying to get more spontaneous, more musical. Doing this little acoustic thing was definitely a big part of helping me not only take a broader, more healthy look at what I’m doing, but also a more honest look at monitoring what I’m doing and being honest with myself about ‘What is it I need to do to try to define what I’m doing in more of a sublime way?’” If Bloom is any indication of Eric Johnson’s prospective direction in an already amazing career, existing fans and relative newcomers can eagerly anticipate much more incredible music in the years to come.

Favored Nations

The Tone Ranger Rides Again Eric Johnson Bloom

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