Eric Johanson – Below Sea Level | Album Review

Eric Johanson -Below Sea Level

NOLA Blue Records

12 tracks

Eric Johanson’s second CD (third if you count his duo CD from last year with Tiffany Pollack) is an outstanding piece of work.  His guitar playing is stellar and his vocals are solid. NOLA-based and Louisiana born, Johanson exudes energy and feeling in the music he plays.  A third-generation musician from Louisiana, this protégé of Tab Benoit showcases the skills he has honed in this cool new CD with all original tunes that he wrote.

The album is produced by Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All Stars.  His brother Cody plays drums here on the album and Terrence Grayson rounds out their trio on bass.  Johanson handles the vocals and guitars and co-produced the album. The Dickinsons call this style of music Memphis Underground; I just call it damned good.

The album kicks off with hill country meets the swamp in “Buried Above Ground.” The driving beat and guitar give the listener a head bobbing good time as Johanon shows us his vocal and guitar prowess. You have to be buried above ground and “don’t tell him about the devil” because he says he “lives below sea level.” What a fine opener! If that was not enough to get your heart pumping fast then the opening in“Down To The Bottom” will. Stinging guitar and excellent vocals sell the listener on this one. “Changes The Universe” features the lone guest artist, Ray Jacildo on keys.  He does a stellar job helping Eric set the mood and tone for this cut.  The guitar is sublime, the vocals impassioned and the cut is exceptional. “Never Tomorrow” follows, another slick cut by Johanson with a huge guitar solo. “Hammer On The Stone” takes the pace down a few notches in what the one sheet labels as stoner rock.  Certainly inspired by Hendrix, we get Johanson laying out some fine licks and howling out the lead vocals. “Have Mercy” is next, more driving blues rock where Johanson lyrically describes the problems on the streets of his home town. A throbbing beat and more passionate vocal work and driving guitar really get you going. Whew! And we are only half done!

“River Of Oblivion” opens the second half of the CD and Eric continues to spin tales of the woes his young life has already been exposed to.  The bass line moves the song along as Dickinson also lays out his beat and Johanson tells of about addiction and problems he has seen. The guitarist and his trio take us home in this down tempo and dark cut. “Nowhere To Go” picks up the pace and feeling as Dickinson sings and plays with near reckless abandon.  The licks are hot and the beat is fast a la Chuck Berry. The peddle comes off the throttle a bit for “Open Hearted Woman,” a deep, mostly instrumental song with passion and feeling despite the lack of vocals for 2/3 of the cut.  Johanson’s guitar rings as the backline pumps out the beat; when Johanson finally begins singing we get more feeling and then he lays our a solo on his guitar that just finishes things off with even more gutsy feeling. The next cut is “Dose Of Forget” where he channels a little Jimmy Page to kick things off.  The guitar is wicked and the vocals hot in this super piece of music. “Love Is Rebellion” is up next, blending acoustic and electric slide guitar.  The acoustic guitar takes the lead in this pretty ballad about freedom. The song transitions over to slide and a big solo but then concludes with the acoustic guitar and a plea for freedom– “love is rebellion, it’s the only way to be free.” Eric finishes things off with the resonator in hand and gives us “Riverbend Blues,” a solo piece about days of yore where life was simpler.  Somber and reflective, Johnason shows us another side of his work here as he sings and picks out some cool stuff.

The first time I heard this album I fell in love with it.  I’ve listened to it at least a half dozen more times and each listen I get more and more from it.  This young man is the real deal.  His guitar playing is spectacular.  His vocals are excellent and the new songs range from really, really good to outstanding. Eric Johnson is certainly one of the stellar young stars that is rising in the blues world.  This album will garner attention for him as he takes his place in the new generation of blues greats who we will eagerly listened to and enjoy.  Most highly recommended!

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