Universal - "Recordings: 1987-1989"
(Slowburn Records 2007)

From Aural Innovations #38 (January 2008)

I first became aware of Eric Johnson when he and fellow members of the band Sun Zoom Spark helped breath new life into Jesus Acedo's Black Sun Ensemble some years ago. But Eric has had a lengthy recording history, beginning as a teenager in the 1980s and having completed 17 full-length cassette projects as Universal. With a few exceptions the music was all penned and performed by Johnson, and the 2-CD Recordings: 1987-1989 is the first of 3 collections of four track recordings Johnson plans to release.

Disc one begins with the 16 minute "The Path Forgotten". It starts off with Neu styled motorik rhythms, but soon launches into a rock 'n roll song. The core song is decent melodic rock, but when Johnson gets down to serious jamming we're treated to some tasty grooving psych rock that at times has a Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead feel. "Drone" begins as a trippy jangly psychedelic rocker, but after a couple minutes transitions to a very cool spacey komische prog instrumental segment. "10000 Miles" starts off as a blistering rocker, but after several seconds seems to abruptly change its mind about direction and shifts to a rock n' roll tune similar to the song portion of "The Path Forgotten". But things get really interesting when Johnson takes off on an acid guitar jam that holds its own nicely for a couple minutes before returning to the song. The multi-themed "Salamander" is a prog-psych instrumental with interesting and well thought out dual guitars, later transitioning through various song segments, from melodic acoustic to frantic and spacey. "October" is a short acoustic instrumental. And "Co-Serpentine Lines" is quite different from the previous tracks, being a piano dominated track. It starts off with a mad pianist intro, then veers off into a bouncy toe tapping motif. Continuing with that theme, Johnson experiments with mood and atmosphere, bringing in the guitar intermittently for full on 70s influenced prog jams.

Lots of very cool music so far, but disc two had what for me was the strongest and most enjoyable music. There's a couple shorter songs that are standouts. Like the drugged stoner-psych-garage-punk "Egyptian Queen", and the similar but spacier "Storms Rise". "The Seed" is a very cool hard edged acid psych rocker with Eastern influences that bear some of the traits of the Black Sun Ensemble sound Johnson would contribute to many years later. A solid combination of jamming and melodic development. "Osiris" is a total space voyage that's explores kosmiche prog and space ambient territory. "Icy Lucifer" is a heavy jamming down 'n dirty psych rock instrumental that again brings to mind Black Sun Ensemble. Lots of great guitar on this one. And the 19 minute "Easy Journey To Other Planets" wraps things up and is a mind-bending deep space exploration that is the highlight of both CDs for me. Spacey Pink Floyd jams certainly come to mind, as do a variety of early 70s progressive rock influences. The music just drifts along in a dream state, slowly traversing the landscape, jamming little melodies on the guitar and keyboards, and basically just giving the listener something to meditate or chill out to. Later in the piece Johnston introduces vocals, doing a short song bit, before launching into a prog edged hard rock jam that bring the track to a close. Awesome!

I love it when musicians dig into the archives and give us a glimpse into their roots, warts and all. Johnson was creating some very interesting music in these early years and covering a range of territory. Check this out for an appreciation of just how much of a contribution Johnston would later bring to Black Sun Ensemble.

For more information you can visit the Slowburn Records web site at: http://www.slowburnrecords.net.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

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