CD Reviews

Eric Johnson - 'Up Close - Another Look' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     July 15, 2013    
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There's lots of variety but it comes across as rather disjointed.

It seems like a superabundance to have a second guitar hero with the first name 'Eric', but while I have been an admirer of 'Slowhand' since I first saw him live in December 1965, my introduction to 'EJ' was much more recent, and occurred when my friend Simon (Loxy Music) Loxham – take a bow – played me his fourth (1996) solo release, 'Venus Isle', since when he has only released a further three solo studio albums, this one being a considered revisitation of his 2010 CD, 'Up Close'.

Along with Messrs Vai and Satriani, EJ was the third guitarist of the original G3 concert tour, and my favourite of the three. He also has a remarkably pure – some might say "angelic" – voice, although this is used sparingly and each of his albums have had many instrumental tracks. Here, six of the 13 tracks have vocals, but only three from EJ himself, with Malford Milligan vocalising very effectively on the "sunny" rock song 'Brilliant Room' that has EJ playing at his imperious best, and with Steve Miller on the magnificent mid-tempo blues 'Texas', the only non-EJ original here, and also featuring guitarist Jimmy Vaughan. 'Austin', a tribute to EJ's hometown has an alternately smooth then gutsy vocal from Jonny Lang but we have to wait for 'Arithmetic' (track nine) for a wonderful Johnson vocal to appear and this is closely followed by 'A Change Has Come To Me' and piano-driven ballad 'Your Book' (featuring guitarist Sonny Landreth): simply mesmerising vocals on all. However, instrumentally, '...Change...' (at 6:40, the longest track on the album) annoyingly drifts off into a lengthy improvisational section to conclude, and is at odds with the rest of the album.

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In truth, this is something of a mixed bag; there's lots of variety but it comes across as rather disjointed. When it's good – as on all but one of the vocal tracks, and also the spellbinding and standout instrumental 'Gem' on which EJ soars with his guitar and produces his trademark tones magnificently – it's very good indeed. Elsewhere, 'Up Close...' is merely just another EJ album.

But given the paucity of his solo output over the years, in truth that is more than good enough for me – but I guess I am biased.

Paul Jerome Smith

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