Because Eric Johnson is so quiet and unassuming – except when a guitar is slung over his shoulder – it’s easy to forget how good he is. So this double dose of welcome reminder is definitely in order.
The book about creating and Yesterday meets today are double testimonies of what the Texas guitar master did during his time in the pandemic. Weighing in at nine songs each, they’re decidedly different but easy to pull together as a 67-minute body of work, each illustrating Johnson’s fluid playing skills and diverse musical orientations, veering easily from the blues (he’s from Texas, after all). to jazzy fusion, pop and even a touch of prog. But while there’s an abundance of blazing licks, there are also melodies for miles – both played and sung – and while nothing here can have the definitive impact of “Cliffs of Dover” (as if anything can), it’s the kind of package , that could be handed to any neophyte as a primer on what makes Johnson such a heavyweight.
The 18 tracks, according to Johnson, are mostly the result of some archival digging during the shutdowns when he was unable to tour. Spanning 25 years and in varying degrees of completion, it’s clear after listening to both albums that Johnson was only too happy to make music during that difficult time, bringing each song to the point we hear them now, mixing technical precision with smooth arrangements and sound production that’s polished but also retains some grit. Their differences are pronounced but complementary. Yesterday meets today has more of a raw, odds-and-sods feel with fewer vocal tracks and some short instrumental pieces whose finished versions feel like they’re not too far removed from their original sketches. But it is a nice companion for the more clearly designed ones The book about creatingand you’d be hard-pressed to find any real missteps between the two.
“Soundtrack Live” opens The book about creating with Johnson’s trademark light-touch licks, lyrical and melodic as they dance over a poppy groove and build to a soaring finish. From there, it’s one highlight after another, with multi-tracked and intricate guitar interplay on display throughout tracks like “Floating Through This World” and “Just to Be With You,” and some particularly hot solos on “Bigger Than My Life” and ” My Faith in You.” Co-singer-guitarist Arielle is the lyrically positive project’s only guest, singing “To Be Alive” as “A Thousand Miles” closes The book about creating with Johnson vocalizing scat-lite over a vibey backdrop drenched in guitar tones.
Yesterday meets today there’s a bit more going on in terms of range, starting with the biting and fast blues rock of “Move on Over”, while the title track places Johnson in yacht-rock docksiders, and a rendition of the blues foundation “Sitting on Top of the World” lets him slow things down a notch with more hot solo play. A pair of sub-two-minute tracks, the hot-wired “Maha” and the elegiac “Until We Meet Again,” are exciting in their brevity, but it’s “Dorsey Takes a Day Off” that might be the best of the two albums, starting with a ferocious attack and weaving two different guitar patterns through the track’s blues-prog synthesis. Releasing two albums at once is a challenging feat, and it’s rare when both are successful. But The book about creating and Yesterday meets today allow Johnson to cover a great deal of stylistic ground and give an even wider expression to the same statement. And since he signs off the latter with “Until we meet again,” we sure hope it doesn’t take too long for that to happen.
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