Eric Johnson, “EJ” (Provogue/Mascot Label Group)
Texas guitar hero Eric Johnson concentrates on piano, acoustic guitar and intimate ballads on “EJ,” a quieter effort with oscillating results.
Covering Jimi Hendrix, Les Paul and Simon & Garfunkel amid a set of original instrumentals and sung ballads, Johnson’s patented fluid runs and clean tones provide the usual six-string excellence.
Johnson, whose electrifying “Cliffs of Dover” won a Grammy in 1990 for best rock instrumental, says “EJ” is the outcome of his resolve to be “more honest … and show more of my personal side.”
Whether on steel strings — the rings-like-a-bell tones of “Once Upon a Time in Texas” and the playfulness of “Mrs. Robinson” — or the nylons of “Serinidad,” Johnson’s guitar playing is never less than mesmerizing. On his guitar duet with Doyle Dykes on “The World Is Waiting for the Sunshine,” you can practically feel the warm rays of Earth’s nearest star.
Johnson’s vocals, never his strength, work well enough on ballads like the tender “Wonder” and the Stephen Duffy-like “Wrapped In A Cloud.” But they falter on “Scarborough Fair,” distracting from the otherwise dynamic, piano-led arrangement.
If “Water Under The Bridge” sounds a bit like Christopher Cross, it’s only natural as they’ve both guested on each other’s records, while Johnson plays a jazzy piano solo to carry “One Rainy Wish” — from Hendrix’s “Axis: Bold As Love” — away from the original’s psychedelic universe.
Known for his perfectionist drive, Johnson creates more guitar magic on “EJ” but his vocals and songs need a sprinkling of pixie dust.