Richard Leo Johnson

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Language Review

by David R. Adler

Johnson's sophomore outing is quite a departure from the solo guitar format of Fingertip Ship, his debut. Determined to showcase his skills as a writer and orchestrator, Johnson assembled an unlikely cast of guest musicians: from electric bassist Reggie Washington of the M-Base Collective to Warren Haynes of the reformed Allman Brothers Band. Paul McCandless's oboe and soprano sax and Andy Reinhardt's accordion also create arresting musical colors. Those who don't care for the old-world quality of the accordion ought to hear what Reinhardt is capable of making the instrument become. Upright bassist Glen Moore, drummer Matt Wilson, and percussionist Cyro Baptista also join Johnson, bringing influences from their diverse musical worlds to the project.

Johnson strums, picks, and bangs on an assortment of six- and 12-string guitars, as well as pedal steel on the beguiling "Sweet Jane Thyme." The 12-string/accordion duo "Music Roe" and the slide guitar/udu drum juxtaposition on "Freestone Peach" are particularly brilliant. And for fans of Johnson's solo guitar work on the previous album, there's the stunning "New West Helena Blues," played on a McCollum double-neck acoustic guitar. In addition to the ten originals, there are also curious renditions of Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" and Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Happy Talk," as well as the 24-second "Daddydaughterduo," featuring Johnson with his ten-year-old daughter Tess on cello.

Some of the music may get a little flowery, but Johnson's highly idiosyncratic slice of Americana will likely become more and more interesting as his career continues.

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