A fascinating, unexpected concept album of acoustic steel-string instrumentals.
Johnson has been compared to Michael Hedges, and, like that late innovator, his music is a bit too intense to fit the “new age” tag, even if no one knows where else to pigeonhole him. He lists Leo Kottke, John McLaughlin, and Pete Townshend as influences, and has also been compared to Ralph Towner, John Fahey, Derek Bailey and others.
Instead of the double-neck acoustic he usually plays, the entire CD was performed on a 1930s National steel-bodied Duolian, but that’s not the only departure for Johnson. After his friend Steve Carpenter loaned him the guitar, he discovered “bells, horns, voices, and other mysterious qualities” waiting to emanate from the resophonic. When he noticed the name “Vernon McAllister,” assumedly a long-forgotten owner of the instrument, primitively etched into the body, he sought to find out who he was. When no information resulted, he began imagining where Vernon came from, what he looked like, what type of music he played on the guitar.
The myth that emerged may have little or nothing to do with the real Vernon McAllister, but set Johnson off on an engrossing collection of vignettes that he taped in his attic studio in Savannah, Georgia. An EBow and primitive tape effects were employed, but every sound on the CD came from the National – though many take on an other-worldly quality, while the music itself sounds like some heretofore unearthed style that might have existed before blues or hillbilly music were solidified into conventions.
Johnson refers to the 20-track set as a musical narrative, and recommends listening to it as a whole, “for the fullest experience.” To do so is to get lost in your own images and storylines, triggered by but not necessarily paralleling Johnson’s – wondering along with him just who Vernon McAllister was.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Aug. ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.