ERIC JOHNSON -- Venus Isle (Capitol)

Eric Johnson has just released his follow-up to Ah Via Musicom entitled Venus Isle. After six years and almost as many title changes, Venus Isle contains eleven new songs in a wide variety of musical styles. People have said that Johnson was suffering from 'Boston syndrome' (only releasing a new album every six or eight years). However, the big difference between this and a Boston album is that Johnson's new album is great. Johnson tries several new things on the CD and most of them pay off beautifully. Two of the songs--"S.R.V." and "Camel's Night Out"--have been part of his concert repertoire for years.

Things get off to an excellent start with the majestic title track. Johnson's multi-textured guitar work on the song is stunning. "All About You" is another of the many highlights on the disc. The fluid guitar licks on the song's chorus are truly memorable. This song also marks the first time that Johnson has included a percussion section on any of his CDs. "S.R.V." is a tribute to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. The song's solo by the former leader of the Fabulous Thunderbirds--and SRV's brother--Jimmie Vaughan adds a nice touch.

On the CD's only weak track, "Lonely in the Night", Johnson makes use of a string arrangement with less than spectacular results. Johnson shows off his jazzy side on "Manhattan." His warm, tasteful playing on the cut evokes the sounds of jazz great, Wes Montgomery. "Camel's Night Out" revisits the Jeff Beck-like power trio sound heard in some of Johnson's earlier works. In another first for Johnson, the tender "Song For Lynette" marks the first time a piano-based song has appeared on one of his CDs.

Guitar Player magazine named Johnson "Best Overall Guitarist" for the last four years in a row, and deservedly so. While his playing can seem a bit self-indulgent at times--almost as if to say "look what I can do"--the fact remains that he has produced a brilliant new album you don't want to miss. Venus Isle is one of the finest albums of the year.

© 1996 Steve Marshall