Eric Johnson's new release "Up Close - Another Look" is a strange album on two grounds. First, it is not that new - it is a reprise for Europe of a CD released in North America in 2010, simply called "Up Close". Second, it is not entirely clear what it is trying to be - blues? light rock? country? It is a bit of all, which I suppose in an era of downloading selected tracks is not really a problem.
The CD is due for release in Europe on April 1, to coincide with a UK tour. It has been remixed and re-mastered and also lost two tracks on the way. Johnson, who started off doing session work for the likes of Cat Stevens and Carole King before grabbing various accolades of his own, including a Grammy, says he decided just to "let go a bit and allow things to happen".
The result has plenty of solid moments, but is not altogether satisfying as a single work of music. The only thing that appears to bring the CD together is Johnson's mellifluous guitar work. There is no question that that part of it is excellent. He has, after all, been feted by the likes of Guitar Player magazine and appeared in lists of guitar greats.
The problem is that just when you think you are going to sit down to a good bit of blues after listening to the almost sitar-like "Awaken" and the eminently raucus "Fatdaddy" you are hit with "Brilliant Room", which borders on the kind of soft album rock that used to be the staple of mainstream late-1970s/early 1980s FM radio.
You get it almost immediately again. The very pleasing guitar blues "Texas" - not a 100 miles away from a slow Stevie Ray Vaughn performance - is followed up by the rather fluffy "Gem". Pleasant enough, but I don't want to go from Stevie to REO Speedwagon in a single jump. Then there's a bit of country/Americana thrown in with the rollicking "On The Way", followed up with an "Arithmetic", seemingly straight out of a Christopher Cross playlist, albeit with some pleasing guitar.
For my taste, the star of the album is "Vortexan", a gritty, bluesy, rocky conglomerate that seems to capture Johnson and his guitar at his best (below). I will listen to this, quite a few times, I should imagine , as well as some of the other numbers. But I will be skipping through to get to them.