Eric Johnson's talent 'blooms' on first solo effort since 'Venus Isle'
June 08, 2005 - Eric Johnson is a musician, not a math major. But even he realizes that his meticulous ways in the studio have meant that he's not releasing albums nearly as frequently as he wants.
"I'm trying to get a little more efficient and get stuff out quicker," the virtuoso guitarist and singer said in a recent interview.
It's well documented that Johnson re-recorded his 1990 breakthrough album "Ah Via Musicom" three times before he was satisfied with the performances and released the CD.
His next CD, "Venus Isle," arrived in 1996, but only after he had ditched an in-progress double record and started from scratch again.
In the nine years since, Johnson has re-leased a CD, "Live and Beyond," as part of the blues trio Alien Love Child and a collection of 12 previously unreleased demos, outtakes and live cuts called "Souvenir," which was sold exclusively through John-son's Web site.
Now comes "Bloom," his first solo effort since "Venus Isle." Though the protracted gap between studio albums may indicate otherwise, Johnson said the "Bloom" project actually got him closer to getting up to speed in doing studio records.
What's more, he believes a shift in his working methods has started to translate into greater levels of emotion and feeling in his studio playing.
On earlier albums, Johnson's usual method was to compose and record his music simultaneously in the studio and keep exploring and refining each song until he had achieved the exacting quality he wanted in his arrangements and performances.
In the process of making "Bloom," John-son began to question his routine and how it affected the quality of his music.
"The reason I'm taking so long is I'm going through so much mental gymnastics in making music," Johnson said.
He started to consider rehearsing before he began recording, with the idea that raising his level of playing would translate into a more passionate performance without sacrificing the technical quality in the playing. It also might speed up the process of achieving that elusive magical take.
"You want to get back to that initial spark," Johnson said. "I think a lot of times when I would go into the studio, I couldn't pull off the stuff I wanted to pull off. I'd hear it in my head, but I hadn't done enough homework or practicing in really the sense where it really applies and really makes sense to walk into the studio and get it in a reasonable amount of time. So what I'd end up doing, I'd end up having to do it 50 times to get it where I wanted it."
For "Bloom," Johnson didn't abandon his old method of writing and recording simultaneously, but he did begin emphasizing extra rehearsal and a more spontaneous approach to recording.
"That record was a step in the right direction," Johnson said. "I haven't arrived yet. I'm still having to do stuff over and over, and I'm still doing a lot of my same old techniques for making a record. But it was more performance oriented."
Musically, he said the CD shows growth both in his songwriting and guitar playing, taking his songwriting into some uncharted areas, and stretching his guitar playing in subtle, but significant ways. But John-son also sees room for improvement, particularly with the guitar parts.
"I guess I wish I had put a little bit more unique, more different styles of unique guitar on it," he said. "I ended up playing a lot of guitar stuff on it that was kind of stepping away from stuff that I knew how to do, which I thought was good. I mean, to me there's a growth on the guitar playing as well, but it's in more of, it's not in a real flamboyant way."
Like other Johnson CDs, "Bloom" offers plenty of variety. Structured into three suites, it mixes several vocal songs in with instrumentals and ranges from the brisk, yet fluid rock of the title song to the poppy vocal track "Sad Legacy" to the delicate jazzy ballad "Hesitant."
Whether "Bloom," which leans slightly in a more gentle direction than Johnson's other albums, will resonate with his fans has yet to be determined as the CD just arrived in stores.
In reality, "Bloom" will have a lot to live up to if it is to match the high points in Johnson's career so far.
An Austin, Texas, native, Johnson arrived on the national scene as a solo artist with the 1986 CD "Tones."
It wasn't until "Ah Via Musicom," though, that Johnson really made a commercial impact. The hit single, "Cliffs of Dover," pushed "Ah Via Musicom" beyond a million units sold and won a Grammy for best rock instrumental.
Though not as big a hit, "Venus Isle" was another commercial and critical success.
Johnson plans to do considerable touring behind "Bloom." And get this, Johnson said he'll also have another new CD — an all-acoustic effort — ready for release be-fore long.
"I've actually cut 13 pieces for the acoustic record already," he said. "It's pretty good at this point. I'm still kind of working on it. It's two or three Simon and Gar-funkel pieces, one tune by the Beatles and the rest of it is all original."
Eric Johnson plays June 14 at Mississip-pi Nights, 914 N. First St. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show, which also features Kaki King, cost $22.50 in advance and $25 day of show.