Richard Leo Johnson
Richard's newest release is the third installment in a series of mythical characters.
The first in the series was the highly acclaimed "The Legend of Vernon McAlister" followed by "Who Knew Charlie Shoe".
Now we have "Celeste".
Using a one-of-a-kind instrument provided by Martin Guitars, the "Alien" guitar is both visually and structurally unique.
Artist, Michael Brolly, designed and built the guitar.
Michael has had penchant for the alien theme for years and has created a large body of work based on that concept.
Michael was commissioned by Martin to build a guitar for Chris Martin III.
The result was an acoustic guitar with a theremin built into the body.
Soon thereafter arrangements were made to have his instrument shipped to Savannah for Richard to make a recording.
The resulting body of work on "Celeste" is a mix of haunting, mysterious, and sonically unique music that defies any style or category. This is an earmark of Richard's music as cited by most of his reviews...a singular voice in the world of the guitar.
Now with the added twist of the theremin and the blending of the sonic qualities of the two instruments, we have a perfect storm for yet another amazing recording by this distinctive artist.
Richard Leo Johnson Press
Who Knew Charlie Shoe w/ Gregg Bendian
Richard Leo Johnson's style on the acoustic guitar is marked by emotional depth, complexity and hauntingly unfamiliar harmonies. Percussionist Gregg Bendian is the leader of The Mahavishnu Project and Interzone. They have toured together in the past, opening for King Crimson, among others, but this is their first recording together.
This record is an extension of the music and story of Vernon McAlister and his music's influence on the people he encountered, which started on Richard's last record, The Legend of Vernon McAlister. As on that album, Richard has taken on a character's role in order to 'get inside' of the music. Charlie is a self-taught guitarist from Marked Tree, Arkansas who has developed his own way of playing the guitar, after a chance encounter with Vernon. "Junk Fish" was a successful drummer in the 1970s, but was eventually a causality of the rock and roll lifestyle. He sold his drums, moved to Marked Tree and works in the salvage yard where he and Charlie met.
Richard and Gregg work with "junk" percussion, cheap guitars purchased off eBay, field recordings and simple tape effects to make a kaleidoscopic, down-home, psychedelic experience.
In a few spots, Gregg's non-standard percussion instruments are reminiscent of the Harry Partch instruments, and the music that resembles the imaginary meeting of Harry Partch and John Fahey!
"When you enter the surreal sonic wonderland of Who Knew Charlie Shoe – and you definitely should – prepare to be amazed, amused, exasperated and, above all, eminently entertained. The faux folkloric alternate musical universe created by the duo of guitarist Richard Leo Johnson and percussionist Gregg Bendian is nothing less than the stuff of genius.
Equipped with cheap guitars and improvised percussive devices, the duo crafts a low-tech high concept album that explores the life of a fictional backwater Arkansas savant in 21 succinct and surprising tracks. A few tracks are closer to artfully arranged noise than songs, but the majority are tuneful, cheerful and melodic.
A force of nature guitarist, Johnson's personalized playing is pure and unpredictable, as it provides points of reference to other guitarists, especially John Fahey in his more adventurous acoustic period – but only in passing as it relentlessly races down uncharted idiosyncratic paths all its own. If you don't hear a particular guitar style – blues, classical, jazz, folk or none of the above – give the album another listen, because Johnson plays it well at some point..." - Downbeat
"Johnson is perhaps the real heir to the throne left empty when John Fahey died. His acoustic guitar playing is subtly virtuosic, and his music is informed by everything from Stravinsky to folk music to acid rock. Drummer Bendian reveals another side of his colorful, experimental nature." - John Schaefer /WNYC
Who Knew Charlie Shoe? builds on the tradition Johnson established in his 2006 release The Legend of Vernon McAlister, this time positing a new character – Mr. Shoe, a home-grown Arkansas guitar virtuoso with Asperger’s syndrome – and bringing along percussionist Gregg Bendian to play the part of Charlie’s buddy and musical partner, Junk Fish….
...a free-wheeling, rhythmically driving approach to improvisation and extended pattern that might sometimes remind one of Brazilian guitar monster Bola Sete; a spaciousness to the melodic conception that allows nostalgic and bittersweet found sounds like train whistles, insect buzzes and birdsong, church bells, radio noise, and spoken words a subtle – but important – place in the music.
-”Dusted” By Kevin Macneil Brown
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.
“All Music Review” Review by François Couture
Talk to most guitarists and you'll find self-admitted gear heads looking for the latest and greatest—or, conversely, vintage—instruments, representing unparalleled craftsmanship. Still, guitarists like ex-Ry Cooder and Jackson Browne collaborator David Lindley revel in finding old instruments that may be cheap but possess unmistakable character. Guitarist Richard Leo Johnson continues the story begun onThe Legend of Vernon McAlister (Cuneiform, 2006) with Who Knew Charlie Shoe?, finding great and surprising beauty in dime-a-dozen instruments.
Still, despite a certain off-kilter feel, there's no lack of melodism, with Johnson's virtuosity a hidden means to a very musical end and Bendian's often unexpected textures feeling completely organic. Who Knew Charlie Shoe? is another fine album in a string of winners that, much like Bill Frisell's Americana records, takes a tradition, turns it on its side, and creates something sounding both familiar and new.
“All About Jazz” John Kelman
The Legend of Vernon McAlister Cuneiform Records
"...On "The Legend of Vernon McAlister'' (Cuneiform), Mr.Johnson revels in the Duolian's metallic tone, its resonances, its sharp plinks and its capacity to slide and sustain. The pieces he overdubbed often draw on folky picking patterns, but those down-home materials can be enveloped in eerie near-electronic wails, quasi-orchestral surges and spiky percussive sounds -all made with just that steel guitar. It sounds as if Mr. Johnson has
glimpsed the Duolian's haunted inner life. ..."
-Jon Pareles, The New York Times, Sunday, March 5, 2006
"...Johnson, best known for his nimble finger style acoustic guitar recordings, was so taken by the sound of his vintage National Duolian when he first played it -"Bells, voices, horns and other mysterious qualities emanated from it, he recalls in the CD's liner notes -that he decided to use the instrument to orchestrate an imaginary telling of McAlister's life.
In keeping with blues mythology, the tale is murky ...
Orchestral, dissonant, odd -all those adjectives apply to the music Johnson has composed for "Legend ,"a sharp departure from his previous, contemporary-sounding releases. Another adjective fits, too: cinematic. Imagine Ry Cooder scoring a film based on the life of the late Delta bluesman Bukka White and you'll have some idea of what Johnson is up to here. The 20 solo guitar performances evoke Southern blues, folk and gospel traditions by emphasizing altered-tuning atmospherics, full of yearning refrains, droning vamps, skittish rhythms and sustained overtones. Besides imbuing much of the music with a seamless beauty, the strategy makes "Love and Trouble," Angry Angel," "First Night Alone" and other tunes all the more haunting."
-Mike Joyce, The Washington Post, January 25, 2006
"Richard Leo Johnson has a remarkable relationship with a restored National Duolian steel-bodied guitar, which he showcases on as fine a solo all instrumental ·album as you'll hear. His devotion to this 75-year-old instrument, inscribed by previous owner Vernon McAlister, is so deep that the rootsy music he draws from its inner chamber has a mystical quality. ...
Johnson's enlightenment is our gain. He has assimilated all the various music he has ever heard -the list would seem to include Charles Ives, Ralph Towner, John Fahey, Robert Fripp, Mahavishnu, raga, ambient, minimalism , Delta and Piedmont blues, American and Japanese folk -in order to express humanity through his own singular hybrid. Johnson's deft fingers on strings, the eccentric tunings, the awesome sound manipulations and the metallic ring of the guitar conspire together enchantingly. He invests 20 songs...with a multihued sobriety beyond the reach of pretense , sentimentality or self-conscious artiness. ...4.5 out of 5 stars."
-Frank John Hadley, Downbeat, June 2006
...a wonderfully hushed and delicate universe that manages to be beautiful, eerie, ominous, soothing, and startling by turns, as Johnson overdubs light percussive taps and chiming notes into the mix, along with weeping, whining tonal washes of E-Bow and gently applied tape effects. Everything here is of a piece, forming an insular and unified suite...Imagine sitting at the bottom of a deep and tree-lined Appalachian hollow, a place where the sunlight just barely reaches, and then imagine hearing a strange yet oddly familiar music drifting down to you from the next hollow over, slightly muffled and distorted into echoing fragments and harmonics, and all of it sounding like the work of new age angels..."
-Steve Leggett, All Music Guide,www.allmusic.com
"Richard Leo Johnson was raised in a small town in the Mississippi Delta and was first inspired by a cassette tape that had Leo Kottke on one side and John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra on the other. Practicing on his own, he developed an idiosyncratic style that employed 30 different tunings on guitars of 6, 12or 18strings. His new CD is called The Legend of Vernon McAlister ad it's entirely played on a 1930s National Duolian guitar with the name 'Vernon McAlister' etched into its steel body. With it and some effects devices, Richard creates an original soundscape that blends blues with 20c minimalism in a way that would have baffled Vernon."
-Lucky Oceans,"The Daily Planet,"ABC Radio Na/Wnal, April 3,2006 [rebroadcast January 24, 2007], www.abc.netau
( Winner of the Rhythms Magazine readers 'poll for Australia 's "National Music Program of the Year' award each of the past four years.)
"The success of guitarist Richard Leo Johnson 's latest CD, The Legend of Vernon McAlister (Cuneiform), a follow-up to his 2004 full-band ,Poetry of Appliance, is an unexpected case of addition by subtraction, in more ways than one. ..." ·
-Bill Meredith ,"The imaginary legend of Richard Leo Johnson,"Jazziz, August 2006, www.jazziz.com
"...when a friend presented him with a 1930s National Duolian steel-bodied model, Richard Leo Johnson took an immediate shine to its surprising playability and fascinating colors. Particularly intriguing was the name "Vernon McAlister," crudely etched into the steel body. lifted Johnson's imagination , and he spun a tale of a Tennessee man who teaches himself to play a strange, sweet, unruly music...The album is Johnson's musical document of the legend, and it's a stunner.
Johnson gets an incredible variety of colors from the Duolian :Whistleable tunes...and fleet arpeggios sit next to moody yet captivating textures conjured from sustained, eerie whines, metallic grinds and buzzy plucks of the strings. You can hear jazz, blues, folk and classical at times, but the lasting impression is how meaningful and heartfelt every note sounds; this is endless invention in the 8ervice of a private yet compelling beauty.
...Legends aren't often freshly minted, but Vernon McAlister may well be one of those."·-Andrew Lindemann Malone,Jazz.Times, May 2006
"25 ESSENTIAL HOES CDs FOR 2
...These are the albums that snapped the synapses of John Diliberto and the F.choes staff in 2006.
...#8, Richard Leo Johnson, The Legend of Vernon McAlister ,Cunieiform" -Echoes, January 1,2007, www.echoes.org
"...the 2005 CD from guitar great Richard Leo Johnson is a stark look at the underbelly of rural America. For the 2005 release of The Legend of Vernon McAlister Johnson combines the spirit of Michael Hedges, John Fahey, Derek Bailey and Leo Kottke and comes up with an authentic sounding, instrumental acoustic Americana -soundtrack that borders on the sublime. That vintage effect further underscored by Johnson's expert performance on National Duolian, a steel bodied guitar from the early 1930's. ...Johnson's work on the resonator guitar...adds a brilliant touch on an instrumental album filled with deep musical expressions." -Robert Silverstein, 20th Century Guitar,April 2006
"...The Legend of V01Wn McAlister finds Johnson as adventurous as ever. With an arsenal of unusual playing and production techniques, he has created an album that is filled with strong melodies but, perhaps more importantly, shows just how far one can take a simple premise if only one has a vivid enough imagination." -John Kelman,All About Jazz ,March 8,2006, www.allaboutjazz.com
"To paraphrase Henry Miller, whenever I hear someone mentioned with the greats, I reach for my revolver. Over the course of three records, Country blues guitarist Richard Leo Johnson has been praised all the way to the pearly throne, putting him in the room with Fahey,Kottke,Bailey, and, gulp, even Hendrix. But damn. if there hasn't been an ounce of hyperbole yet When I beard the opening track. "Morning Glory", I literally fell off my chair, and almost bawled ...
The dexterity and emotional power is truly overwhelming. Johnson, playing a vintage 1930 National Doulin Steel guitar, finds sounds and odd chord changes that must have been hiding in the basements of lonely shacks all over the South. He has set these ghosts free.
"Angry Angel", "Triumph Over Loss",and "Everything is Beautiful and Sad" not only channel raw, rural gothic blues, but reinvents them. Believe the hype, and don't feel like a poser when you add your own outrageous praise: the Legend of Vernon McAlister is a classic, raw and moving and historic.,,. -Mike Wood, Music Emissions, June 21, 2006, www.musicemissions.com
"...The Legend of Vernon McAlister sounds in every way like you would expect an album exclusively recorded with a 1930s steel guitar to sound. The gorgeous, creaky resonance of the slide-scrapes over the strings on the steel body is here in opulent display. But what really pleases about this · record is Johnson's ability to coax so many harmonic textures and rhythms out of said instrument with no hint of overdone melodic content or unreasonable studio embellishment
The opening track, "Morning Glory," starts the album on an upbeat but somehow peculiar note by blending syncopated pick scrapes with very Major sounding melody lines that often swing their way instantly into the minor and back out -almost mimicking the flow of the entire record. This is the
duality of The Legend of Vernon McAlister. beneath all of the very pleasing, open melodies creeps a kind of darkness or heaviness that gives the music its depth, much like bow the mystery surrounding McAlister and his steel guitar inspired Johnson enough to create these songs in the first place.
There is also something very rugged sounding about this record. One can almost smell wild flowers blooming ...or imagine people corralling horses... Beyond where any one of these tracks takes you in your mind, there is without a doubt a real creative talent in Johnson and a lnle passion in him to create.
The quintessential track that exudes to the fullest all of Johnson 's depth and romanticism is the lush and grand "More Than All the Stars in the Sky." Contained within the sharp slides, pulsing, arpeggiated picking, and glistening harmonic matter are worlds of sound as big and as fierce as storm clouds rumbling far off in the night sky spread out before an endless desert." -Cyrus Sbabmir. PojormerMag.com
"..•this evocative album...tells the mythical tale of this long forgotten musician. Featuring 20 short pieces (none over4 minutes) the album features some wonderfully moving playing which slowly draws the listener in, invoking the ghosts of the past in a quite amazing way. Stylistically the album bears comparison with Leo Kottke, or Jack Rose, the steel string managing to produce an incredible array of sounds, that are merged beautifully together to produce a fine release worthy of your time."
-Simon Lewis, Terrascope Online, May 2006, www.terrascope.co.uk
"...what would you do if you laid hands on a well-preserved steel-bodied guitar with a name and a hidden history ? Precisely wba1 an imaginative • musician like Richard Leo Johnson has done: dream up a story, create a legend, imagine a music and record an album. The stay and the legend are simple, elegant and charming... The music is equally charming but not simple at all. Quite the contrary. It comes across as the t of months of exploring the possibilities of the instrument by an uneducated and enthusiastic player, someone who isn't spoiled by any formal musical training and who has lots of time to find out what kind of sounds be can draw from this loud-mouthed stringed box.
In20 short tracks, Mr. Johnson explores the whole range of sounds the Duolian can produce, from gently tapped percussion to orchestral chords and
from sweet melodic lines to harsh, crying harmonies. The entire record is built like and meant to be beard as a suite of wordless songs where each separate piece serves to emphasize the overall versatility of the music. Much more than being a mere showcase of sound effects, it is a dialogue between musical means and meanings. Each piece shows bow the instrument influences the expression and vice versa, and the whole is loosely constructed but closed in on itself, following its own musical logic. Vernon McAlister, wherever be is buried, proves to be truly a legendary master of the steel-bodied National Duolian."
-Stefaan Van Ryssen,Leonardo Online, www.leonardo .info
"...Richard Leo Johnson is a devoutly self-taught guitarist, which means he's both open to possibility and occasionally naive... He's worked out an idiosyncratic interpretation of blues and bluegrass and jazz guitar that suggests all these styles without ever quite becoming one of them. ...
"The Legend of Vernon McAlister'' shows a typical bifurcated personality. Johnson acquired a steel-body guitar with the name "Vernon McAlister" scratched onto the back. He invented [an]...imaginary history of the Depression-Era picker and his guitar. It reads like a parody of a passage from Harry Smith's "Anthology of American Folk Music." But if that reference means something to you, you should check out Johnson, because at his best he sounds like a lost performer from that venerable collection: a hermit loner, doing impressionistic, historic twangs about side roads, boxcar dreams, briar patches and angry angels."
-Milo Miles, "Music: Roots Revolution," WBUR-Boston's NPR News Station, April 11,2006, www.wbur.org
"In the age of the sampler, three innovative guitar players are taking their instruments to new heights: Richard Leo Johnson, Dominic Frasca, and Jonas Hellborg. ..."
-Milo Miles," The Guitar, Alive and Well,"NPR -Fresh Air from WHYY,May I 0, 2006, www.npr.org
"...The tunes here also owe something to Fahey's uncompromising Americana, conjuring images of the swampy South. Throughout, you can bear Johnson' sjoy at coaxing new sounds from this loud, raw instrument: from fast, banjo-style finger picking to bluesy slide and beyond into wolf-bowl moans, Japanese koto and medieval madrigal -there's even a hint of John Cage's prepared piano• •..3 out of 5 stars."
Daniel Spicer,Jazz Wise, April 2006
"...Despite this embrace of an antique instrument and the fictitious narrative set long ago that be concocted to frame the album ...Johnson's music is not particularly old-fashioned.. His reliance on outboard effects, most notable an e-bow, makes him sound at times like a pastoral Robert Fripp.His arrangements, accomplished via overdubbing, betray a sense of harmony that has more in common with post-Presley pop than pre-war blues.And Johnson's appreciation for placing novel sound effects within accessible melodies is at once less rigorous and more playful than, say,John Fahey's more outr6 excursions. The result is a record that flows from bucolic reverie to eerie fantasia with ease."
-Bill Meyer,Dusted Magazine, March 19, 2006, www.dustedrnagazine .com
"'A rustic strain of ambient Americana has been in the wind for the last year or so... Richard Leo Johnson's The Legend of Vernon McAlister may have upped the ante. Johnson was already a critically acclaimed fret-burner, bringing two-handed tapping techniques to his double-necked acoustic. Here, he opts for a gentler, but possibly more avant-garde sound, trading his acoustic for a National Steel guitar. Like a Dobro on steroids, the National Steel is a metal guitar whose overtones and strange resonances make it capable of the most unearthly sounds. Creating a mythological narrative around the story of Vernon McAlister, whose name is actually etched on Johnson's ancient instrument, the guitarist creates a sound that is both mystical and rural... Johnson overdubs himself, picking and sliding notes and often using an e-bow that makes the instrument sound like a musical saw. The Legend of Vernon McAlister traverses the Appalachian fantasy of...serene backwoods reveries...and experimental tone poems... Richard Leo Johnson has created an album of hidden and subtle charms."
-John Diliberto, Amazon.com (editorial review)
"Johnson's latest album is entirely played on a battered National steel-bodied guitar...The title comes from the name carved on the antique instrument -Johnson asked himself what sort of man Vernon McAlister might have been, and what kind of music he might have played ...The results, recorded in his attic in 2005, are haunting in a way that could soundtrack a backwoods murder mystery.
"Quarter-Tone Soldiers Marching on the Mill" which Johnson plays some slide that sounds like he's attacking the neck with a rusty steel sculpture of a violin bow, is close to terrifying. Other tracks, which mix the scrapes and pings one gets when finger-picking such an instrument with drifting, almost subconscious echo, are just as otherworldly without going overtly for listener goosebumps.
Johnson doesn't limit his influences to the Delta and John Fahey, either. There are tracks on here that suggest Asian music, the steel guitar's sharply plucked strings ringing out like.a koto played in a darkened cave. But the track titles tell almost as evocative a story as the notes themselves, and it's one rooted in the American frontier and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s:"Love and Trouble," "Angry Angel," "Boxcar Dreams and Dark Tunnels," ''Three Wishes Wasted.," "Eaten by Wolves at Midnight," "Skin and Bones."1nits own unique way, this haunted, mournful album fits right between Ry Cooder's soundtrack to Paris, Texas, and Tom Waits' Mule Variations."
-Phil Freeman, Jazziz, August 2006, www.jazziz.com
"...Johnson's style, characterized by complexity, exhilarating speed, and hauntingly unfamiliar harmonies created through 'found' tunings, marks this self-taught player apart. ...This is a CD of deep beauty and innovation, created with just this one old guitar and some simple electronic and tape effects, located in some sort of nether place between the old and the modem." -Intuitive Music, January 18, 2006, www.intuitivemusic.com
"...Jazz House 2006 Top Tens:PATRICK HINELY:
New Albums: Richard Leo Johnson/LEGEND OF VERNON McALISTER/Cuneiform "
-Patrick Hinely, Jazz House House, www.jazzhouse. org
THE RICHARD LEO JOHNSON TRIO POETRY OF APPLIANCE CUNEIFORM
"...The space-age atmospherics of Ochoa and Ripley never overshadow Johnson's playing; indeed, Ochoa's theremin meshes perfectly with Johnson 's guitars on the simply lovely "Her To Hymn,"and Ripley's almost dub-like waves of sound are a perfect counterpoint to Johnson's
overdubbed guitars on the driving "Glidepath."Playing 6-, 12-,and 18-string guitars...Johnson takes his various influences -mostly Leo Kottke and
John Fahey's playful disregard for acoustic convention and John McLaughlin 's wide-ranging, cross-genre expressiveness -and distills them into a uniquely personal sound that's rooted in folk and the more experimental end of new age music but doesn't quite belong in either category. Difficult to categorize, then, but marvelous to hear." - Stewart Mason, All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com
"...on this superlative effort...the guitarist fuses a starkly organic foundation with ringing electronic overtones....Johnson and his trio intermingles lush melodies with sprightly choruses. Yet there's a prevailing sense of movement and excitement that envelops this gorgeously recorded production.
The band soars into the red zone on occasion. And it's partly rooted within an underlying sense of structure, augmented by the artists' bursting
dialogues. Dynamics abound, even within pieces that are built upon quaint melodies. Count this among the top ten productions for 2004, regardless
of any rigidly defined musical classifications."
-Glenn Astarita,All About Jazz, November 2004, www.allaboutjazz.com
/ "With only three records to his name...guitarist Richard Leo Johnson has managed to create a small but vital body of work that combines the best of Ralph Towner, Leo Kottke, Steve Tibbetts and Michael Hedges. Working mai.nly on acoustic guitar, and a double-neck one that has both six and twelve-string variants to boot, Johnson has evolved a self-taught style that, like the best of his influences, is intriguing in it orchestral scope and distinctive in its approach.
On Poetry of Appliance Johnson debuts his first permanent group... While the combination of wind instrument. ..violin and primarily acoustic guitar might lead one to believe this will be a somewhat chamber-like session, the truth is that, along with a virtuoso technique and a bevy of found tunings, Johnson can be a percussive player who provides the rhythmic drive that such a grouping might lack. Tracks like "Glide Path" truck along with plenty of forward motion, and an approach that resembles some of the best Newgrass work of artists including Bela Fleck, Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas. "
Or the other hand, the group is capable of elegant subtlety." Charmin' Carmen" begins with Ochoa creating a thick texture by feeding his violin
through a delay, a precursor to Johnson's entry with a harp-like tuning, and an uncanny ability to imply rhythm ...
While Johnson covers much stylistic territory, his Arkansas roots are clearly evident throughout in the underlying folksiness of his writing. And as complex as his compositions are, as multihued the textures and as irregular as the meters can sometimes be, the entire disc flows with a purpose .
...the tunes seem to flow seamlessly from one to the next The sequencing is simply so well thought-out ...giving the album the feeling of a continuous suite.
Johnson's innovative playing and vividly visual writing style elevate him to a place right besides his influences. Johns0n has reached the point, with
Poetry of Appliance , where rather than being "influenced by" he becomes plainly influential in his own right"
⦁ -John Kelman ,All About Jazz, October 2004, www:allaboutjazz.com
"Another of those impossible-to-categorize albums. It's really New Music with an accent on both acoustic guitar work and electronics. Cuneiform is
known for its embrace of the minimalist esthetic and this album in no exception, and it strikes me as possibly appealing to adventurous jazz fans.
...The blinding of the acoustic string sounds with the electronic instruments comes to the fore as some of the primary attractions of this trio, and the minimalism is tempered by quirky variations and ornamentation that prevent overload...the overriding slant is tonal. Truly a unique musical outing for the sonically adventurous. 415 stars."
-John Sunier,Audiophile Audition, June 22, 2005
''Th'ere's a pastoral sensibility to his acoustic guitar playing, reminiscent of the simple lyricism of jazzers Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny in gentler, unplugged settings. Other sections suggest a kind of alt-country-meets-new-age vibe. His electric guitar outings, on the other hand, have a fusion tinge. Overall, when teamed with the amplified instruments played by Ochoa and Ripley, Johnson creates a quirky kind of instrumental music that evokes all sorts of musical styles without fully inhabiting any of them... the trio demonstrates plenty of tension and interplay on Poetry of Appliance, making instrumental music that easily transcends the overtly consonant character of much new age. It's nice to hear improvisers taking their time to weave a musical discourse, especially when they have as much to say as the Richard Leo Johnson Trio."
-Christian Carey, Splendid, February 7, 2005, www.splendidezine.com
"Performing his incredible double neck McCollum acoustic guitars, RU first came into focus on a pair of cutting edge, impossible to categorize albums he recorded for Blue Note records in the late '90s but he really hits his stride with the 2004 Cuneiform Records CD release of Poetry of Appliance. Featuring his new ensemble, the Richard Leo Johnson Trio, Poetry of Appliance offers a fine compliment to the adventurous guitar spirits like California Guitar Trio and the rural Americana of acoustic legends like Leo Kottke."
-Robert Silverstein, "Glide Path...An Interview With Richard Leo Johnson,"20th Century Guitar, January 2005
"...Poetry of Appliance furthers his reputation as the modem heir to the greatest acoustic guitar instrumentalists such as late greats John Fahey and Michael Hedges. Johnson ...strikes gold ...assisted here by Ricardo Ochoa (electric violin) and Andrew Ripley (keyboards). Part of what sets Johnson apart is his sheer technique and audacious approach to acoustic music, which he structures more like electric chamber music than either bluegrass or jazz could ever imagine. ...Johnson's ethereal acoustic/electric forays are greatly enhanced by some quirky keyboard electronica courtesy of Andrew Ripley and strategic theremin injections by Ochoa. Challenging the instrumental acoustic genre, Richard Leo Johnson takes the guitar into a brave new world"
-Robert Silverstein, 20th Century Guitar,November 2004 / Music WebExpress 3000
"...pleasant surprise to hear this set of original instrumentals, embracing such contrasts, dynamics, and brisk, colorful flights of virtuosity, from an American guitarist who has happened upon his own personal method of manipulating e strings. ...Originality seems to lie how Johnson alternates constantly between heavy chordal strumming, and deft plucking, stretching and squeezing the guitar's expressive capacity to its limits. He succeeds because his technique serves the music; not the other way around. Chords on violin and synthesizer ground the listener comfortably in the timbres typical of those instruments, while beefing up arrangements, giving the guitarist room to explore a multiplicity of expressive angles, without being drowned out. ...this trio does not belong in comparisons with the mostly lackluster background music Windham Hill made famous. At the end of the day -after Johnson's technique has been assimilated and analyzed by imitators -POA will stand or fall based on its musical merits. And it deserves to stand_" -Michael Ezzo, Roundtable Review, Expose, March 31, 2005
"Known for his unique self-taught picking style and his twin-neck, Johnson covers a lot of stylistic territory on the eight tracks herein. Almost a one man band by himself, his playing pulls every last bit of power and passion out of the entire fretboard ... on the more aggressive pieces Ochoa and Ripley tend to drive the entire melodic end while Johnson handles just about everything else, while on the softer more dreamy cuts like "Charmin' Carmin" the melodic and support roles are shared. There are no easy comparisons to be made here, Johnson and company cover way too much area to be easily pigeonholed, though folks who appreciated Pat Metheny's New Chautauqua ...the first two Steve Tibbetts albums, or guitarists like Leo Kottke or Michael Hedges will probably find plenty here to get excited about"
-Peter Thelen, Roun_dtable Review, Expose, March 31,2005
"Poetry of Appliance is part Mahavishnu Orchestra, part semi-classical ...Two former members of the Savannah Symphony Orchestra have melded their talents into the band with Ricardo Ochoa on violin and Andrew Riply on synthesizer. "Charmin Carmin" recalls Jan Hammer's best early solo tracks meshed with a moody Bill Frisell stylized passage . In contrast "Eulogy" is Johnson's elegant pastoral piece that evokes guitarist Ralph Towner with Ripley's melodica adding an extra layer of comfort. ...Across the eight songs on the disc, a trio camaraderie is created that balances acoustic dexterity with an intuitive accompaniment,"
-Jeff Melton, Roundtable Review, Expose, March 31, 2005
"Somewhere between Leo Kottke, Oregon.,and a displaced Fripp, exists the virtuoso trio led by guitarist Richard Johnson, riding the range in search of a new form of fusion. ...the downright weirdness of some of the instrumental voicing's, the astonishing tonal colors achieved, and the ease with which they achieve fierce aggression without percussion. Effortlessly transitioning from delicate pastoral poems to souring anthems, Johnson and cohorts are at their best when eschewing easy harmonies and shimmering new age gloss, opting instead for...quasi-Western country-jazz and space age acoustic bluegrass. Fusion? Yeah, I guess! Nobody understands the power of the slow build to roaring climax better than these guys, but they also know that every high-flying arrow to the sun must be balanced by something sorrowful and earthbound for contrast. The sheer beauty of this album is overwhelming. It is just about as perfect as a collection of tunes can be within its chosen style and sound. Total rating: 16"
-Steve Davies-Morris, Progression,#48, Spring 2005
"A complex -and often stupefying intricate- instrumental ·amalgam of the American acoustic folk idiom, the late-70's heyday of electric jazz fusion, the psychedelic backwash of Krautrock avatars CAN, and the type of hypnotic Eastern drones favored by such '60s avant-garde archetypes as La Monte Young and Albert Ayler,Johnson's pocket guitar symphonies are often so cerebral and idiosyncratic as to defy categorization....In fact, it's worth notice that when esteemed music journalist Vic Gabarini opined in Playboy Magazine that Richard Leo was "the most innovative guitarist
since Jimi Hendrix,"such outpouring of rapturous praise was essentially par for the course ... It was this desire to expand his musical palette which
led to his current project ...The Richard Leo Johnson Trio. ...Before long, the three were hard at work adapting Richard Leo's new original material - initially conceived as solo work for electronically treated guitar -a task made difficult by the very nature of his songs, in which the musician usually handles all rhythm, melody, harmony and counterpoint in a dazzling display of ambidexterity. ...Johnson says it's one of the few things in his entire career that he's "pretty satisfied with," noting, "Many of the critics that have reviewed my other albums think this is the best thing I have put out""
-Jim Reed, "Portrait of the artists," Connect Savannah, November 17,2004,www.connectsavannah. com
Richard Leo Johnson Language Blue Note Records
"With a style that sounds like a blend of Leo Kottke,Michael Hedges,Joni Mitchell, and Ralph Towner, guitarist Richard Leo Johnson creates acoustic music that is beautiful, impressive, and instantly appealing. For his second Blue Note release, Johnson brought in...several rhythmic accompanists ...The result is a masterful concoction of gorgeous, impressionistic music. ...The musical atmosphere...is quite similar to that of Oregon's finest recordings, placing this disc in that ...hard to define genre...combining jazz, folk, new age, and classical elements, Johnson's guitar work is remarkable throughout. This is a highly recommended recording. rating = 4 1/2 stars."
-Jim Newsom ,All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com
"Slash & burn acoustic guitarist Richard Leo Johnson takes the next step after his major label debut, Fingertipship.Having made the definitive solo statement, he fleshes out his sound, articulating a rural dissonance that's part country blues and part crazy angst ...Frequently playing a double necked 6- and 12-string guitar, Johnson orchestrates a whirlwind of sound, banging and tapping his instrument, wiping the strings, flipping back and forth on the necks in an orchestral ballet Yet, for all his brilliant technique, the Arkansas-bred guitarist has a rustic melodocism ..."
- Pulse!, #199,December 2000
"...if anyone knows about playing guitar, it's Johnson. ...he's spent most of his artistic life...perfecting a mind-boggling acoustic guitar technique the likes of which has rarely been beard. Think Doc Watson meets Michael Hedges and you'd be in the ballpark . ...Johnson's... developed an obscure, singular style -one that encompasses rhythms, bass, lead, and melody lines, sometimes all at once. ...Instrumentally speaking, there may not be a more innovative acoustic guitarist on today's scene." -Bob Gulla, lmmch, www.launch.com
"Twelve-string guitar master Richard Leo Johnson sounds like the unlikely offspring of Leo Kottke and Django Reinhardt ... his music fits into neither the guitar's conventional niches nor the hybrid categories... Obvious influences like John Fahey and Michael Hedges me through the coruscating brilliance of his technique ... Many finger-style guitarists who've reached Johnson's level have settled for riff mongering ... Language , however, suggests that Johnson wants to do more: a few of the tracks push towards an idiom in which the prestidigitation adds up lo more than the sum of it parts, growing and evolving thematically .Jazz's reigning acoustic guitarist, Ralph Towner, epitomizes the style, and in fact Johnson shares Towner 's gift for painting sonic landscapes with pointalistic splashes."
-Neil Tesser, "Critic's Choice: Richard Leo Johnson at Martyrs,"Chicago Reader, October 6,2000
"Language further cements his role as the current voice on 12-string guitar, continuing a lineage that includes Ralph Towner and Leo Kottke.
...Johnson 's singular voice -the combination of fervent string bammer--OnS, open-string harmonics, and arpeggiated, cascading chords -rescues these songs from imitating Oregon... Language flows with a similarly searching spirit while incorporating dynamic shifts that recall Pat Metheny 's As Falls Wichita album. Even John McLaughlin and Sbakti are evoked in Johnson 's welcome tendency to capture sub-Asian grooves with his rhythmic sensibility. ...Ultimately, it's Johnson 's unique,orcbestral approach to guitar that make him and his music special."
-Mike Bieber, Jauiz. October 2000
"...you can bet a few jaws will drop. Johnson grew up in the wilds of Arkansas and has no formal music training, and that lack of conservatory constraints has served him well.The opening number...sounds like two guitars instead of one. Infact, it is. Johnson played a double-neck 12string, and he plays the entire guitar, slapping and tapping its body and using harmonics and odd tunings. ...no matter how much velocity Johnson works up, there's always a song at the core. ...There's really no way to characterize this music, except maybe by creating new hybrids... but that doesn't matter. To do so would only box in Johnson's enormous talent " -The Washington Post, October 15,2000
"...many young, especially acoustic, players are drawn to the work of such between-the-cracks eclectics as John Fahey, LeoKottke, Michael Hedges and others. Richard Leo Johnson , whose 12 string playing is beyond definition, nonetheless continues to do. fascinating work in the same vague
arena, some of it tinged with the spirit and the swing of jazz. His "Language" (3 stars, Blue Note) places him in ... attractive instrumental settings, in some cases with briskly swinging results. Other pieces emphasize his remarkable technique and the colorful ,orchestral-like sound textures he
. generates from his instrument " -Don Heckman ,"Spotlight,"Los Angele s Time, Sunday, October l ,2000
"If you like...The innovative instrumental guitar work of LEO KOTIKE or JOHN FAHEY, pick up RICHARD LEO JOHNSON 'S recent acoustic
Language ." -Entertainment Weekly,October 27,2000
"His playing is quite magical ,ranging from thick wedges of strummed chords to delicate finger picking strings. ...aching lyrical ballads...Cajun swamp groove...Hispanic-tinged jazz ... the blues... and covers of jazz standards ... Accomplished as he is on his instrument, Johnson is much more than a skilled musician and brings a wide range of expression and nuance to what is a pleasant yet unusual musical set Rating: 7/10"
- CW, Blues & Soul, September l, 2001
"...fine solo guitar work recalling Leo Kottke and Adrian Legg. ...All in all, this effort by Johnson provides a lot of interesting and pleasant
listening." -Tom Mazzone, Jazz & Blues, Issue 248, November/December 2000
"The 12 string/accordion duo "Music Roe" and the slide guitar/udu drum juxtaposition on "Freestone Peach" are particularly brilliant And for fans of Johnson 's solo guitar work on the previous album, there's the stunning "New West Helena Blues," played on a McCollum double-neck acoustic guitar. Rating = 3 stars" -
David R. Adler,All Music Guide,www.allmusic.com
Richard Leo Johnson FINGERTIP SHIP METROBLUE
"With all his incredible virtuosic technique, and a boatload of imaginative tuning and improvisational structures, Richard Leo Johnson falls squarely into the "wbere've they been all these yearsT' file. Johnson...bas devised multiple...tunings and fingerings, turning bis double-neck acoustic into far more than the sum of its strings, chords, and customary harmonic possibilities. Where the late Michael Hedges once wallccd., Johnson is now sprinting, playing at frantic speeds with pile-ups of notes and hard-strummed concatenations making the ear race to follow. For all the tunings and preparations , though, there are eminently warm moments, albeit ones that will fascinate the ears of the adventurous and the guitarophile equally ... Johnson is a magical talent and perhaps the next in a short line of guitar greats -a line that includes Hedges, Derek Bailey, Pat Metheny, Sonny Shamx:k. and precious few others." -Andrew Bartlett. AmauJn.com (editorial review)
"...That Johnson ...is a virtuoso is beyond dispute, but so is his musicality....the craft never overwhelms the composition. This is a collection of
real songs; the intense and incredible fretwork is the means, not its master. 3 stars"
-Terry Lawson, Detroit News & Free Press, March 7, 1999
"When one considers it's a solo album, Fingertip Ship boggles the mind. It sounds like guitarist Richard Leo Johnson either used some serious multi tracking or possesses an extra appendage. Actually, neither is true -Johnson's puzzling pyrotechnics come from bis idiosyncratic approach to a double-necked 12-string/six-string hybrid acoustic guitar. Ineffect, he's his own combo...All the tunes display remarkably rich textures. ...his array of well-placed timbral effects - strumming below the bridge, occasional harmonics, and various percussive sound -keep this predominately rhythmic album interesting and varied." -Laura Pellegrinelli, Jazizz, 2000
"...he sends crystalline, sharp-edged sounds -crisp arpeggios, ringing harmonics -flying every which way in complex formations and at mind boggling clips,in the sonic equivalent of exploding stained glass windows ....exhilarating."
-Derk Richardson, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 19, 1999 "Move over Leo Kottke and step aside Adrian Legg -the new kid in town is a twelve-string wonder by the name of Richard Leo Johnson. His new disc, Fingertip Ship, snap, crackles and pops with a live to taper performance that shimmers with full-bodied bravado and attacks with needle like precision...•the flashy blur of finger play reveals a sensitive undercurrent of melody and substance. Every arc has its graceful cascade and for every
splendid twitch there is a luminous pulse, gliding an erratic heartbeat to its inevitable end. A self-taught instrumentalist. Richard's range of trickery
includes an amazing ability to strum and pick the guitar while pounding out the occasional beat The effect is one of a guitar combating itself. This struggle between strings, fingers and sound makes Fingertip Ship a voyage both tumultuou s and tantalizing."
-John Noyd ,Maximum Ink, March l , 1999, www..maximumink.com
"This Arkansas 12-string virtuoso plays fast and loose -self-invented tunings, startling rhythmic shifts -as he bangs the body, manhandles the strings and massages every twist out of his jazzy 'melodies. His whiplash dexterity will snare attention of Leo Kottke devotees, but it also fuels the tension that allows his songs to build where others merely blather." -David Opkamoto, Dallas Morning News, March 4, 1999
"...Johnson's technique, style and delivery are unlike any other performer. ...Johnson's intuitive and idiosyncratic approach ranges from the delicate and spare to the blindingly frenetic. ...It is hard to imagine in Johnson's own case how ten fingers could produce so many layers of sound ..."
-Matthew Robinson, All Music Guide,www.allmusic.com
"...an almost indefinable musical pastiche. Johnson, self-taught, is a remarkable guitarist whose unique tunings and willingness to use the instrument in a host of untraditional ways calls up images of John Fahey, Michael Hedges and Pierre Bensusan . ...there's no denying his capacity to swing with the urgent rhythmic drive of jazz, nor his willingness to expand the envelope of improvisational style with a musical curiosity comparable to that of the most envelope stretchi ng jazz experimentalist 3 stars" -
Don Heckman, Los'Angeles Time, February 28, 1999
"A mind-boggling mix of jazz and improvisational guitar expressions... Described as Michael Hedges jamming with Thelonius Monk, Johnson's engaging, experimental style takes listeners to the deep waters of the sound spectrum... Racing up and down the fretboard with lightening precision while slapping and rapping his guitar for added percussive effects, Johnson's avant approach will amaze acoustic guitar fans who have a taste for the unusual and exploratory. ...well worth your time." -Robert Silverstein, 20th Century Guitar,April 1999
"...Johnson's impressive major label debut...evokes images of other acoustic guitarists who've been know to give their fingers and imagination free reign. including Leo Kottke and John Fahey. ...The album opens with a bold flourish. as Johnson, using sliding chords, ringing harmonics and a final chromatic sweep of the fretboard, creates a steel-string rhapsody of sounds... It's the first of several tracks that emphasize the acoustic guitar's percussive personality in dazzling fashion. Yet some of the music that follows... reveals another dimension of Johnson's playing. In fact, his flair for changing course now and again makes boarding "Fingertip Ship" all the more rewarding ."
-Mike Joyce, Washington Post, March J 9, 1999
"The folks at Blue Note are excited about 12-string guitarist Richard Leo Johnson ,a self-taught solo artist from Arkansas who can make his double necked , acoustic instrument sing and dance and sound like a whole orchestra. ..."Fingertip Ship"...shows the influence of Leo Kottke and Bela Feck and encompasses jazz ,bluegrass, world music and ambient sounds in a mesmerizing potpourri , enhanced by alternative tunings and incredible technique." -Jeff Bradley, Sunday Denver Post ,Febraury 7, 1999