Eric Johnson and Eric Johnson & Mike Stern
Heaping helping of high-profile local LPs
Reviewed by Michael Toland, Fri., Oct. 31, 2014
Eric JohnsonEurope Live (Mascot)
Eric Johnson and Mike SternEclectic (Heads Up)
Guitar star Eric Johnson traverses three decades' worth of catalog on concert retrospective Europe Live. Joined by stalwart accompanists Chris Maresh and Wayne Salzmann II, the Austin native hits all the obvious signposts ("Zap," "Cliffs of Dover") and classics in training ("Zenland," "Austin"). Elsewhere, he resurrects the 30-year-old acoustic piece "Song for Life," successfully pulls off John Coltrane's "Mr. P.C." until Maresh and Salzmann highjack it, and once again demonstrates that he has no feel for blues (Alien Love Child's "Last House on the Block"). Newer tunes "Fatdaddy" and "Evinrude Fever" serve as excuses for Johnson's finger play, but Ah Via Musicom gem "Forty Mile Town" remains a perfect example of using technical virtuosity to create memorable melodies instead of wanking frameworks. Europe Live could use more moments like it, but it will thrill die-hards. Eclectic puts Johnson with jazz axe Mike Stern and lives up to its title. Frankly, some tunes are pretty dire. The world doesn't need another cover of Hendrix's "Red House," while Pat Metheny Group tribute "Wishing Well" (with vocals from Christopher Cross) would make Cookie Monster's stomach hurt. "Roll With It," co-starring Malford Milligan, should come in a white package stamped with a bar code and "blues rock." When jazz takes the lead for "Benny Man's Blues," "Tidal," and "Remember," putting Stern in his comfort zone and pushing Johnson out of his, Eclectic sets up the right framework to show both men at their improvisational best. Plus, Johnson reconnects with his Electromagnets roots on a rocking remake of "Dry Ice," and the pair gets spacey on "Big Foot." It's not enough to overcome cheese like "Sometimes" and "Hullabaloo," but they're proof a strong album struggles to come out.