Eric Johnson

Venus Isle (Capitol)

Venus Isle has few surprises, which is both the best and worst thing about the album. It's slick, overproduced, or, as described with a rose-colored pen by the record company, "polished beyond perfection." Johnson's lyrics approach new-age hokey. His thin, breathy singing voice regularly sounds forced, and his aural soundscaping can become bothersome. But you know what? Big deal because it's always been that way. You generally buy Eric Johnson albums to hear him play the guitar; and in as much as that's the case, then there are some benefits to Johnson's perfectionism. The playing on "Manhattan," for instance, is impeccable. The song opens with the signature melody, a delicate, clean, Wes Montgomery-inspired riff, then Johnson plays that against lines with thick, warm tones. Throw in a solo that's remarkable in its sparseness, and you have vintage Johnson (which only makes sense because the song is at least a decade old). Actually, most of the guitar work on the instrumentals is damn impressive; but the melodies themselves don't have the hook of a "Trademark" or the drive of a "Zap." Plus there's just a bit much ambient filler: "Venus Isle," "Song For Lynette," and "Venus Reprise." The tribute, "SRV," makes obvious the difference between the two greatest guitarists this town has produced. Stevie Ray Vaughan was pure soul, Johnson is finesse. That doesn't mean that Johnson's playing is passionless, it's just when you polish something that much, it becomes a little dull.
HH 1/2 -- Michael Bertin

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