I’ve long been acquainted with Tucson, Arizona based Eric Johnson through his work with Black Sun Ensemble and Sun Zoom Spark. Eric Johnson’s Action Figures is his first solo album, and it truly is a solo effort, with Eric writing all the music, playing all the instruments, and doing the CD art work.
There’s a lot of variety across the 13 songs on this album. Soul Retrieval, The Space Between and The Party Is Over are all chunky stompin’ rockers with a 70s feel. Soul Retrieval is a highlight, combining a cool dirty guitar sound and tasty acid psych guitar, and looming in the background is a Kraftwerk-like alien electro pattern that grooves along lightly with the heavy rock drumming. Inside Outside, Closer, and Demonstration are similar tunes, though with an upbeat groove. I like the sci-fi keyboard melody that contrasts with the rockin’ guitar on Closer. Demonstration is a bit different, having a psychedelic country feel and a cool combination of acoustic and dirty electric guitar.
Among my favorites is Barrett’s Blues, a stoned rocker that’s Bluesy but also has a bit of the ethnic feel of Black Sun Ensemble. The Device is a wickedly ass kickin’ monster guitar heavy spaced out hard psych rocker. Night Sea Journey, Black Queen, and Season of Circles are acoustic driven songs that blend folk and progressive rock. I especially like Eric’s acoustic guitar on Night Sea Journey. Season of Circles is a real standout, having a more intense prog-psych edge, and I like how the strained dissonant guitar offsets the otherwise pleasantly dreamy melodic drift.
Going in even more different directions is Orange Made World, an upbeat piano led instrumental with eerily pleasant spacey keys, alternating with dreamy ambient sections. And Carry Me Away is a blend of singer-songwriter and 60s pop-psych, and even has a bit of a Beatles feel.
In summary, there’s lots of interesting variety on Eric Johnson’s Action Figures. He employs a range of instrumentation and the production and arrangements are impressive for him having handled it all himself. For me the strongest tracks are the heavier ones with the psych influences, as well as the folk-prog infused songs. But that’s a reflection of my own taste. Eric serves up lots of variety without getting too stylistically scattered.
For more information visit the Slow Burn Records web site at: http://www.slowburnrecords.net
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz