July 8, 2013

Chuck Johnson - Crows in the Basilica

Needle drop.

The soft crackle of dust in the groove.  Earthy tones emanate from a platter carelessly dodging 33 1/3 RPM.  Precision picking more solid than the thirty year old strobe that needs constant adjusting.

A guitar and a man visit the past: with a nod to a Seeger and Roscoe Holcomb, strings ringing on a parlor guitar.

Four second break.

Earthy tone and thumping bass: the platter gathers speed for the bridge, slows, steadies on the mark, holds.

Pounding thumb paired perfectly with ringing arpeggios.

Dust  crackle.

The new album by Chuck Johnson, Crows in the Basilica is one of those rare experiences where you ask yourself, haven't I been here before? It's a sense of --- not déjà vu.  More of a returning home, grown, wiser. That is the American Primitive that Johnson plays.

Johnson is the rare player that can play with precision and passion.  What did Robbie Basho say: soul before technique?  Well I don’t know which of the two came first for Johnson,  translation of authentic soul into his musical pieces or mastery of his technique.  Clearly both are on display in this latest release.  Melodies and progressions that sound at once fresh and well worn.

                                            Served up for your ears
                                                        as though they've been waiting
                                                                       for this aural delight for years.

The American Primitives aren’t really a lot that strive for a timeless melody.  When you look at the roots of many of today’s practitioners, they hail from the noise and avant-garde realms that Fahey was haunting at the end of his career.  This has had an influence on this recent resurgence of guitar soli.  And that’s fine, but I like just a bit of melody.

A morsel of melody.  A dash of dissonance.

Johnson navigates a fine line.  Songs of beauty, mystery, and discord circle back to beauty.

Always familiar.  Upon first listening to these works an old favorite is revealed.

Dust  crackle.


Johnson has a way of compelling the abstract leanings of solo guitar to dip a toe in the pool of sweet melody.  Solo guitar has a latent tendency to stay on the fringe of melody.  It’s what makes it so uniquely great as well as sparsely liked or understood.  Johnson is one of those artists that is able to get non-believers to take notice and more than satisfy those of the new AP crowd.

And if we are indeed becoming a crowd that is very interesting, isn’t it?
Chuck Johnson is in the vanguard.


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