Sunday, March 8, 2020

EJ Vol. II (2020), by Eric Johnson

What a difference ten years can make – in both time and age.

In 2010, then-55-year-old Eric Johnson released Up Close, his most frenetic and frenzied electric guitar record to date, so much so that he only sang lead vocals on a couple of tracks and served as accompanying or background vocalist on a few others, with most of the tunes sung by guest performers.

In the ensuing decade, Johnson released more albums than he ever had before – a live recording of a European tour, a duet album with jazz guitarist Mike Stern, an acoustic piano/acoustic guitar pop vocal set (to which this is the apparent sequel), and a return-to-form electric guitar pop rock album (although much more restrained than Up Close).

Now, in 2020, the 65-year-old Johnson returns with EJ Vol. II, which, like its eponymous predecessor, focuses on acoustic piano and acoustic guitar songs, but this time with tasteful touches of his trademark electric guitar flourishes. It is not so much a continuation of any one particular style as it is an expansion and progression of Johnson’s musical development.

The remarkable aspect of the new album is how far Johnson has come as an artist since Up Close. Up until then, Johnson was primarily a highly technically skilled guitar hero and virtuoso.

In recent years, however, Johnson has been focusing more on mastering the crafts of songwriting and singing, and he has been getting very good at both of those pursuits. In fact, the vocal songs – especially “Waterwheel,” “Divane,” “Hotel Ole,” “Different Folks,” and “Golden Way” – are more enjoyable than the instrumentals. That is not to say that the instrumentals are not good – they are.

In terms of singing, Johnson’s voice is something to behold, especially at this stage of his career. He sounds much younger than people who are half his age. You would not realize he is a senior citizen just by listening to him.

As good a singer/songwriter as he is, Johnson still works his magic on those six electric strings. However, his playing is much more refreshingly and enjoyably relaxed and refined now.

This is definitely one of Johnson’s finest albums, right up there with 1996’s Venus Isle, with which it shares a luminescent sonic palette and a spirit of transcendental meaningfulness.

To me, the title signifies not so much a follow-up to a particular album as it does the next phase of Johnson’s maturation as a singer and musician.

--Raj Manoharan


  1. I've been a fan of Eric Johnson since 1988, and have almost everything he has released. This new release E.J Vol. 11, as did his last album Collage, to me are just not interesting enough to hold my attention. I thought Up Close was excellent, as was Eclectic with Mike Stern and the acoustic EJ. The new release just sounds flat, as did Collage. I'm sure a lot of fans will like the new album though, and I have the utmost respect for Eric Johnson.

  2. Thank you very much for your comment, Unknown! Not everyone will like every single album of their favorite artist, and that's okay, because everyone's preferences are different. I agree with you that Up Close is indeed excellent, as is the acoustic EJ (and I think the "sequel" is excellent also, obviously!) Eclectic is the only Eric Johnson album I don't have. I'm leery of albums with two or more main guitarists because sometimes it's hard to tell who's playing what even if they have distinct styles, unless they're playing different kinds of guitars (for example, nylon and steel string, or electric and acoustic). I plan on checking out Eclectic eventually. But you and I absolutely do share the utmost respect for Eric Johnson. Thanks again for reading and writing!