Tones, Eric Johnson's first solo album, is an exceptionally strong debut, and a record that is just as good as the guitarist's breakthrough 1990 release Ah Via Musicom. Grouped with long-time compatriots Roscoe Beck and Tommy Taylor, Johnson's trademark composing voice and so-sweet electric guitar are already on full display. True to the album's title, Johnson showcases many different guitar tones, from the violin-like sustain of his trademark distortion to the bell-like timbre of his clean-toned rhythm work. Johnson also sings on five of the nine songs on Tones, and his voice is as competently expressive as ever. The second half of this record is really where it moves from being simply "good" to "great." Emerging from Stephen Barber's almost new-agey Fairlight CMI vamp, "Trail of Tears" kicks into a driving groove punctuated by Johnson's chordal stabs and arpeggios and carried by one of the guitarist's best vocal melodies. The multi-tiered arrangement is also one of the high marks of Johnson's catalog. This track segues in turn into the wonderful "Bristol Shore." This song features Johnson making his guitar sound like a koto as well as throwing in some impossibly in-tune upper-register licks that are played so sweetly they seem to threaten to fly off into the stratosphere (pun intended). The lack of a "Cliffs of Dover," a catchy, driving instrumental showcase for Johnson's chops, does not cheapen Tones in any way. It is a beautiful and important album by one of the greatest electric guitarists ever to pick up the instrument.
AllMusic Review by Daniel Gioffre