Eric Johnson: Europe Live

Nicholas Cho

Coming out on June 24, 2014, Europe Live features songs from Eric Johnson's entire career.
Coming out on June 24th, 2014, Europe Live features songs from Eric Johnson’s extensive solo career.

Europe Live proves again that Eric Johnson is one of the best live guitarists today.

To be released on June 24th, 2014, Europe Live is a career-spanning collection of 14 cuts from Johnson’s recent 2013 Europe tour. The album features Chris Maresh on bass and Wayne Salzmann II on drums, and it captures the magic of Johnson’s concerts from his long, improvised solos to the show’s contagious energy.

The album starts off ferociously with a new composition simply titled “Intro,” surprisingly laden with dark musical themes, but nevertheless still sounding like a signature Eric Johnson song. Speedy and melodic fuzz guitar lines transition seamlessly into clean chord melodies that eventually fade into an excerpt of “Venus Isle” from his 1996 album of the same name.

The momentum carries on into the next track, “Zenland,” from Johnson’s side group Alien Love Child.   This version of the fuzz rock anthem is kicked up a notch from the original with a faster tempo and a bass phaser effect sweeping in the background.

The music slows down a little with “Austin,” a song from his most recent studio album Up Close that serves as a nod to his hometown. Johnson makes both distortion and clean guitar tones rock in this performance that features his graceful voice as well.

My favorite song from the album is a beautiful performance of the Ah Via Musicom gem, “Forty Mile Town.” Johnson can make a guitar sing – his clean guitar chord progressions delicately hover over his vocal melodies, transforming this song into an ethereal soundscape.

The next track is a nearly 10-minute version of John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.,” which features incredible solo sections for the entire trio as well as a short series of three-way tradeoff solos. Maresh’s fingers are all over the fretboard while Salzmann’s light, yet dynamic strokes compose his solo. Johnson’s classics, “Manhattan” and “Zap,” are played with more energy than their original recordings, with the latter now featuring a flurry of harmonics.

Johnson showcases his equally as impressive skills on the acoustic guitar with “A Song for Life,” and this version features both bass and hand percussion that add to the fluidity of Johnson’s playing.

“Fatdaddy,” another song from Up Close, is raw and grooving before going into “Last House On The Block” by Alien Love Child, which starts off heavy like early Cream material until Johnson makes the tune his own as his melodic chord vamps surround the listener with a tranquil ambiance.

During his live shows, Johnson is well-known for his improvised section before flowing into his hit song “Cliffs of Dover,” and in this album, one of those captivating improvisations is presented as “Interlude,” which then leads into his Grammy-award winning hit.

“Evinrude Fever,” another new song, begins with Johnson’s typical humorous one-liner banter, which then kicks into a grooving, rock tune about his love of waterskiing and boating. It’s a great jam that features Johnson decorating his rhythm guitar playing with speedy guitar licks.

The final song of the album is “Sun Reprise.” Recently, when playing “When The Sun Meets The Sky” from the Venus Isle record, Johnson has performed a new improvised intro and outro, and “Sun Reprise” captures these additions. These new instrumental sections can stand as a song of their own: glistening chords turn into fierce arpeggios as the album ends with a climax.

With its brilliant new songs and raw energy, Europe Live is paving the way for another exciting chapter in Johnson’s career.