Reviewed by Michael Toland, Fri., Oct. 21, 2016
Acoustic albums usually eschew excessive ornamentation to reveal songs and instrumentation at their most bare. Worshipped for his Stratocaster work, Eric Johnson's proven himself in this alternate arena with naked instrumentals popping up on his LPs since 1990's major label breakthrough Ah Via Musicom. In his first album dedicated to unplugging, the titular EJ strips back to nothing but fingers and strings, instrumentals "Once Upon a Time in Texas" and "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise" showcasing a master musician at his most relaxed and playful, not adjectives one usually associates with this notorious perfectionist. Unfortunately, half the disc dedicates itself to piano-based pop ballads, ranging from merely mawkish to absolutely gooey. "November" is so sappy it should be oozing from a tree. The album's split personality peaks with two Simon & Garfunkel covers. The speechless guitar version of "Mrs. Robinson" comes off as exuberant, even fun. The piano/vocal rearrangement of "Scarborough Fair" recasts the song as a gloomy canticle that replaces gentle melancholy with emo indulgence. The lack of electricity lets Johnson's axe work bask brightly, but it also brings out his sentimental streak in all its awkward glory.