Eric Johnson’s ‘Bloom’
Jan-Mikael’s EARS: review Eric Johnson’s ‘Bloom’
What is it?
Johnson was heralded in Guitar Player Magazine’s March 1986 issue as one of the world’s greatest undiscovered guitar heroes, and his name has often been bandied about by the cognoscenti, using superlatives usually reserved only for the upper echelon of the guitar world….
What it is:
Johnson is a superb guitarist. Possessed of an impeccable sense of rhythm and phrasing, blessed with matchless pitch and vibrato, and uniquely capable of wresting sublime, organic tones out of guitars and amps that would render lesser player’s tones grating at best, his records have become benchmarks for the elusive pursuit of excellence in both technique and articulation.
‘Bloom’ showcases Johnson’s abilities as a performer and arranger, and his instrumental skills on bass and piano.
Unfortunately, much of the material presented here is pedestrian, reminiscent of much of his previous work harmonically and compositionally, and devoid of the passion and spontaneity evident in his live work (and recordings).
The music has a studied quality to it, and while Johnson’s tones and playing are as stunning as ever, I found my attention wandering once the main riff or theme had been presented. The drumming (specifically on ‘Bloom’ and ‘Summer Jam’) seems incidental and unnecessarily simplistic, as though drum machine tracks had been replaced by better sounding sampled tracks…this is not said to disparage any of the performers but is presented rather as a diatribe against the notion of guitarists producing their own records.
I find the same fault with Steve Vai’s music…as the master of his own domain, he, also infamous for obsessively slavish studio minutia, too often relies on the power of the arrangement and instrumental prowess, relegating drummers to high-priced metronomes. Johnson, now on Vai’s record label, seems intent on removing the element of his music that drives it…the rhythmic propulsion provided by a fire-breathing rhythm section.
Johnson’s music is difficult to translate to recorded media because its power is dependant on the interaction between the musicians for its propulsion and dynamics. It is incumbent upon the producer of records in this genre to capture the volatility of a ‘live’ performance (even in the studio) and present it in its natural state, rather than attempting to bolster flat, lifeless re-enactments of the various parts of a piece of music with effects, or with lethargic attempts at modern-sounding grooves (particularly evident on ‘Good to Me’).
Like Vai, Johnson insists on singing his own material. There is nothing wrong with his (or Vai’s for that matter) voice…he holds pitch well, and stays within his somewhat limited range…remaining safe, pleasant, uninspired, and ultimately extraneous…
Only ‘Hesitant’, the album’s finest instrumental track, featuring the inimitable Roscoe Beck, captures Johnson’s brilliance aptly…his understated octave work, combined with Beck’s counterpoint and nimble soloing, Steve Barber’s quiet comping and Tom Brechtlein’s suave cymbal-work provides a glimpse into the truly stellar musical intellect and combustible interplay that could have been more evident on ‘Bloom’.
Rating: 7-/10 (the minus is mostly for Johnson’s undoubtedly heartfelt yet unfortunately insipid lyrics, but also for ‘Tribute to Jerry Reed’…Johnson’s tribute misses Reed’s point completely if this piece was intended to parlay his (and guest soloist Adrian Legg’s) understanding of Reed’s importance as a guitarist into a song that encapsulates Reed’s singular, unpredictable and incendiary style…)
I am reminded of the words of Frank Zappa…so often quoted as to almost warrant cliché status, but insightful and appropriate nonetheless: “shut up and play yer guitar��?…