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Language

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 26, 2000
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Editorial Reviews

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Arkansas native Richard Leo Johnson has drawn comparisons with the late Michael Hedges and John McLaughlin, but the essence of Johnson's far-reaching guitar sound is grounded in mountain bluegrass and folk music, as well as jazz and left-of-center classical, with a nagging nod to New Age. Johnson's second Blue Note offering finds the 12-string virtuoso in a collaboration, of sorts--he cut the initial tracks solo, then sent tapes to various musicians, including Oregon's Paul McCandless, drummer Matt Wilson, and the ex-Allman Brothers guitarist, Warren Haynes. The musicians returned their taped contributions, and the assembled sounds create a band, again, of sorts.

There is an occasional sense of clutter, amplified by Johnson's spectacular technique, a blitzkrieg of bluegrass string hammers, soaring, bell-like harmonics, funky chordal slides, pretty fingerpicking, and scalding, fret-devouring melodic runs. The opening "Hip Hop Zep" is a blast of everything that makes Johnson so unique, from riveting full-guitar body slaps to lush picking. "Event Horizon" recalls Pat Metheny's high-plains soaring (with lots of surreal hammering effects), while "New West Helena Blues" is a dead ringer for a supercharged Leo Kottke. Two of the best tracks, "Sketches of Miles" and "Freestone Peach," are with Warren Haynes. Unlike the New Agey tracks with Paul McCandless, Haynes's authentic blues slides and ringing sustained single notes make Johnson sound more grounded and give his songs greater substance. But with humorous jigs ("Chuck Soup"), Indian-tinged standards ("Cheek to Cheek"), and father-daughter duets ("Daddydaughterduo"), Johnson is obviously not at a loss for material. Language is a full-course meal. --Ken Micallef

Review

Guitarist Richard Leo Johnson once proclaimed, "A guitar is something to be screwed with." The Arkansas native's 1998 debut, the solo-guitar Fingertip Ship, upheld that ethos perfectly, capturing this homegrown talent - no lessons, no nuthin' - as he coaxed pristine textures from his 12-string with an assortment of oddball tunings and a truly formidable technique.

Language further cements his role as the current voice on 12-string guitar, continuing a lineage that includes Ralph Towner and Leo Kottke. Comparisons to those past masters are warranted - especially considering the appearance here of Oregon vets Paul McCandless and Glen Moore. While songs like "Sweet Jane Thyme," which feature McCandless's all-too-recognizable oboe, hew precariously close to Towner territory, Johnson's singular voice - the combination of fervent string hammer-ons, open-string harmonics, and arpeggiated, cascading chords - rescues these songs from imitating Oregon completely. But indeed, Language flows with a similarly searching spirit, while incorporating dynamic shifts that recall Pat Metheny's As Falls Wichita album. Even John McLaughlin and Shakti are evoked in Johnson's welcome tendency to capture sub-Asian grooves with his rhythmic sensibility.

If pairing R.L.J.'s occasionally overt melodicism and open chords in tandem with percussionist Cyro Baptista - who provides some New Agey wind chimes and neo-tropical effects - yields something akin to smooth, the guitarist opens creative floodgates with introspective solo guitarfests ("West Helena Blues") that capture the probing spirit of his debut. Ultimately, it's Johnson's unique, orchestral approach to guitar that make him and his music special.

--- Mike Bieber, JAZZIZ Magazine Copyright © 2000, Milor Entertainment, Inc. -- From Jazziz

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Hip Hop Zep
  2. Sweet Jane Thyme
  3. Event Horizon
  4. Music Roe
  5. Chuck Soup
  6. Cheek To Cheek/Dance In Heaven
  7. Happy Talk/Dream A Dream
  8. Sketches Of Miles
  9. New West Helena Blues
  10. Daddydaughterduo
  11. 1-5-90
  12. Freestone Peach
  13. Ritual Ground


Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 26, 2000)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Blue Note Records
  • ASIN: B00004YL5I
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #394,460 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By Nobody important VINE VOICE on February 17, 2001
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Every time someone starts talking about the newest discovery of a guitar wizard, I get nervous. Generally, it means that yet another person has acquired a record deal because he can play as fast as Kottke, or plays a Michael Hedges percussive style, but has nothing creative to add to the genre. What caught my eye about this album, though, and got me into Richard Leo Johnson was the record label-- Blue Note (it helped when I noticed that Warren Haynes of Gov't Mule and formerly of the Allman Brothers makes a few guest appearances, though). Why on earth would a jazz label put out an album from some new age hack? I was curious enough to give the album a try, and it's good. If you like Preston Reed, you'll probably like this. RLJ has a unique compositional sense that comes only from being self-taught, and every piece, even those he didn't write, sound uniquely his own. He combines odd rhythms, odd tunings, odd and occasionally dissonant phrasing, and all-around odd techniques to make everything on this, and Fingertip Ship (well worth owning) sound, that's right, odd. The recording technique is equally odd- none of the many musicians who contribute to this album were ever together. They recorded their parts entirely separately, which at times gives the pieces an awkwardness, but also means that each part is recorded with more individuality than can be achieved in a traditional recording format. At times, this album does sound like that annoying, new age fusion garbage that has flooded the music scene (Paul McCandless' horns helped in many places, but hurt in others, although if you are a fan of his band, Oregon, you probably won't mind as much as I do), but it also has flashes of brilliance that blew me away.Read more ›
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The first couple of listens I didn't like this as much as I liked Fingertip Ship - I LOVED Fingertip Ship! The thing about this CD is, Richard's playing gets overwhelmed by production sometimes, and for me, the grace and intensity of him just sitting there playing the damn guitar is breathtaking. After a few more listens I started to get more comfortable with it, and now I don't like it less or more, just differently.
Richard is one of the most incredibly, purely creative people on the planet today, and anything he does is going to be earthshakingly good. My opinion? You ain't seen nothin' yet.
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The last guitarist to knock my socks off was Steve Tibbetts with percussionist Marc Anderson, whose otherworldly compositions defy words. A friend of mine heard this CD played over the P.A. prior to a California Guitar Trio show in Japan at the end of 2000, and was blown away. He sent me a copy (via Amazon, of course!). This is the first guitar CD in several years to knock my socks off again.
Richard Leo Johnson's first release on solo acoustic guitar, "Fingertip ships" (which I bought after hearing this CD) is merely "great". You know the kind: a couple of very enjoyable tracks, the rest forgettable, and after a while you stop listening to it. This release moves the instrumental work up several notches, toward the indescribable. Notably, drums, percussion, bass, sax, cello and accordion musicians accompany the pieces. This is the sort of CD you become addicted to listening in its entirety, over and over again. Like Michael Hedges' multi-instrumentation in his later works, the addional instrumets on this CD lend great depth to the guitar work, which continues to take center stage.
Unlike the more recent Hedges works, Richard is not toning down the guitar to make room for vocals; this CD contains high energy guitar. Also, unlike Richard's previous release, the music on this CD is much more focused and lyrical, while remaining as intense as its predecessor.
In summary, this CD would be an extremely welcome addition to your collection, especially for guitar enthusiasts, but also for anyone who appreciates quality in musical performance.
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Richard Leo Johnson uses 6 and 12 string guitars that he has modified to extract some pure new sounds.As instrumentalists go he refuses to be stuck in conventional formats.
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