ERIC JOHNSON HAS been thinking a lot lately. Thinking about the creative and technical choices he’s made; thinking about what makes a great guitar valuable in the first place; and how we can be more friendly to ourselves as players and people. The result of that introspection is the gentle, acoustic guitar- and piano-driven EJ II, which finds one of the world’s acknowledged Zen masters of jazz-rock tone and technique stepping back from the kind of blinding fuzz-tone quintuplet runs and post-fusion high-wire shredding of classics like “Cliffs of Dover” and “Western Flier,” or more recent throwdowns like the arpeggio-driven “Stratagem” [from 2017’s Collage] and the Meters-meets-Mahavishnu fatback of “Fatdaddy” [from 2010’s excellent Up Close].
Instead, EJ II is the second chapter in the fingerstyle acoustic, piano and songsmith narrative Johnson started on 2016’s EJ. Like that album — which featured solo covers of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” and “Scarborough Fair” — EJ II features Eric’s own spiritually inquisitive folk-jazz songs alongside a small clutch of acoustic-driven classics, notably the Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” and English folk hero Bert Jansch’s DADGAD-tuning vehicle “Black Waterside” (famously pillaged by Jimmy Page on Zep’s “Black Mountain Side”).
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