ERIC JOHNSON — Ah Via Musicom

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ERIC JOHNSON - Ah Via Musicom cover
4.00 | 3 ratings | 1 review
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Album · 1990

Tracklist

1. Ah Via Musicom (2:04)
2. Cliffs of Dover (4:10)
3. Desert Rose (4:55)
4. High Landrons (5:46)
5. Steve's Boogie (1:51)
6. Trademark (4:45)
7. Nothing Can Keep Me from You (4:23)
8. Song for George (1:47)
9. Righteous (3:27)
10. Forty Mile Town (4:13)
11. East Wes (3:28)

Line-up/Musicians

Eric Johnson / Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Piano, Pedal Steel, Vocals, Electric Sitar
Jody Lazo / Vocals
Stephen Barber / Synthesizer, Keyboards
Roscoe Beck / Bass Guitar
Paul Bissell / Drums
Kyle Brock / Bass Guitar
James Fenner / Drums
Steven Hennig / guitar Tommy Taylor / Percussion, Drums
Wee Willie / Harmonica
Reggie Witty / Bass Guitar

About this release

Capitol Records – CDP 7 90517 2 (US/Europe)

Thanks to Chicapah for the addition and snobb for the updates

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ERIC JOHNSON AH VIA MUSICOM reviews

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Chicapah
Here in the southwest United States in the mid 70s, mostly by word of mouth, Austin’s Eric Johnson was acknowledged as being a guitar God long before we’d heard of the likes of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. I recall first catching wind of his wizardry around ‘75 when the buzz about his band “The Electromagnets” starting filtering up into north Texas. In those days when electric blues and countrified rock were garnering all the local music headlines the fact that there was a bonafide jazz/rock fusion outfit making waves deep in the heart of Texas gave many of us hope and boosted our inspiration to push the envelope of the accepted norm. They played at a small Dallas club on Lemmon Avenue called Adobe Flats at some point and I thought I’d drop in to see what the fuss was about but had to jettison that idea when I couldn’t get within blocks of the joint because of the crowds. After the group disbanded in ‘77 EJ went solo and for years he was the most famous guitarist around that didn’t have an album out (due to legal complications with his manager) but his reputation as an unbelievable master of the instrument grew unabated.

Finally in 1990 Capitol Records released the long-awaited “Ah Via Musicom” disc and, in the process, confirmed everything we suspected about him. The album literally bristles with dazzling guitar work throughout and Eric demonstrated not only his versatility but his acumen for intelligent and comprehensive composition. It was obvious that he hadn’t spent the 80s twiddling his fingers while greedy men in suits held his career in limbo but, rather, had continued to develop as an artist while he waited for his time to come. The record has so many influences that it’s pointless to name them all but there’s an overriding fusion atmosphere that permeates the proceedings like strong perfume. His jazz background is especially evident in the scales he runs in and out of on his fretboard and that, more than anything else, distinguishes his style from the heavy blues attitude that dominated the mindset of so many of his peers in that era.

Johnson establishes his ground rules right off the bat by opening with the abstract title cut. It’s a brief taste of otherworldly noises and cosmic goings on that boldly confirms his reverence and respect for Jimi Hendrix that will arise often in the music to come. Suddenly he steps into the spotlight and delivers a brilliant flurry of notes that signals the start of “Cliffs of Dover” and the invigorating show is underway. Drummer Tommy Taylor and bassist Kyle Brock join in and they lay down a firm foundation for Eric to perform one of the greatest rock instrumentals ever written. (Don’t take my word for it, it won a Grammy.) It’s not only a delightful piece of stimulating music but he puts on an exquisite guitar clinic from start to finish that has no expiration date. It continues to be a benchmark for all fledgling shredders worldwide. “Desert Rose” follows and it’s a very melodic blend of rock and modern R&B that shows Johnson to have a utile yet limited voice but it’s his blazing speed and flawless technique on his Stratocaster that dominates the track. “High Landrons” is next, a Hendrix-like number that showcases the incredible variety of tones he employs to create a wildly energized aura. I have no doubt that Jimi would be very pleased with this authentic homage to his legacy. “Steve’s Boogie” is a brief burst of supercharged rockabilly pickin’ ala the Dixie Dregs that’s tighter than spilled epoxy on a door hinge. Staying true to the genre, Eric blends his pedal steel with the contributions of guest guitarist Steven Hennig to create a clean-as-a-whistle tune that’ll rip your whiskers off in less than two minutes.

“Trademark” begins as a slice of light contemporary jazz that goes down real easy and allows Johnson to display another side of his uncanny talent. Taylor and Brock confirm their status as a terrific rhythm section but don’t make the mistake of thinking this is some bucolic stroll through a flower garden. The song evolves gracefully into a behemoth via a series of powerful, dynamic interludes. “Nothing Can Keep Me From You” is a bit of pop rock where Eric’s thin voice keeps the tune from having the desired impact yet the last segment goes a long way in saving the number from mediocrity. “Song for George” is an impressive acoustic guitar performance that further proves his prowess over anything with six strings and keeps the album from becoming predictable. “Righteous” is another beefy rock instrumental wherein Johnson wisely brings in another instrument (this time it’s Wee Willie’s harmonica) to widen the dimension of his sound. A much quieter landscape surrounds “Forty Mile Town” and it supports his delicate vocalizing much better. Here with a myriad of effects he creates gorgeous guitar tones and Steve Barber’s synthesizers erect an ethereal depth of field to serve as a glistening backdrop. It’s a wonderfully dreamy cut that smoothes out the creases in your outlook. Eric closes with “East Wes,” a fine tribute to Wes Montgomery that does that giant of jazz guitar full justice. Not only does he octave perfectly, Johnson’s tactful manipulation of upper register harmonics is quite effective and the overall arrangement is flawlessly executed.

This virtuoso is a shining example of the advantages of cultivating the patience of Job. He had to wait throughout the 80s decade for his moment to arrive and, for a man in the prime of his life, I’m positive that was no easy trial to endure. Yet “Ah Via Musicom” might not be the exemplary album that it is had he not been granted the time to properly refine his approach and develop these songs with such meticulousness. This is a record that holds appeal for a broad spectrum of music lovers and is a must-have for any aspiring guitarist. I’m also confident that any jazz enthusiast will find plenty to admire about Eric Johnson’s amazing musical gifts that are so tastefully displayed on this record.

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