Up Close (EMI / Vortexan Music)
Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Dec. 24, 2010
Eric JohnsonUp Close (EMI/Vortexan Music)
"It was somewhat of the beginning of an awakening for me on this project," writes Eric Johnson in the liner notes to Up Close, explaining, with some hesitation, why a mere five years has passed since his last venture, 2005's Bloom. "Start to let go a bit and see what happens." Coming from Austin's most prominent studio perfectionist, the concept of letting go is purely relative. Up Close showcases exactly what's come to be expected from the local guitar magician: future-age fusion in soft tones – rich in mood and melody – executed with surgical precision, most notably on instrumentals "Gem," "Awaken," and "Fatdaddy." Johnson's vocals still sound thin and timid ("Your Book," "A Change Has Come to Me"), but the collaborative process brings out the best in him. Jimmie Vaughan sparks Lone Star shoot-out "Texas," voiced by Steve Miller – the result of a late-night guitar pull after the Joker's last Backyard visit – and Jonny Lang nails the other local calling card, the autobiographical "Austin." Up Close, an encouraging start to letting go.