Richard Leo Johnson's second CD for Cuneiform Records is in direct relation to his first, The Legend of Vernon McAlister: same fictionalization, same odd guitars, same arcane Americana. Who Knew Charlie Shoe? introduces two new characters: Charlie Shoe (Johnson) suffers from a mild form of autism, which didn't prevent him from learning to play the guitar on his own and becoming a prodigy, after a chance encounter with a guitar-playing hobo by the name of Vernon McAlister at a church picnic. Soon, Shoe met Jaden Barrel, aka "Junk Fish" (Gregg Bendian), an ex-rock & roll drummer turned outcast who is particularly gifted at playing junk percussion. The pair has been "discovered" by music anthropologist Sir Allan Isaacs, who traveled to Memphis to make field recordings of them. That's (briefly) the fictional context of the album. What you really get is 50 minutes of delicious avant-Americana tunes by Johnson and Bendian. Johnson plays an assortment of vintage acoustic guitars as beaten-up and idiosyncratic as the one featured on The Legend of Vernon McAlister. Bendian delightfully mistreats anything within range of his drum sticks, from plastic tubs to lard cans, not forgetting a washtub full of water from which he splashes out a beat in "First Breath in a Bean Field." Johnson's guitar style is unique, but in this particular setting, it is better understood through the prism of Americana music and bluegrass, although what you get is neither. No matter how you rationalize Who Knew Charlie Shoe?, the music is bold and surprisingly easy to like, unorthodox yet tuneful, highly original yet endearing, and virtuosic despite the back-porch approach. A must for fans of Richard Leo Johnson and an essential listen for acoustic guitar aficionados of all persuasions.
AllMusic Review by François Couture