REVIEW: "Ah Via Musicom" by Eric Johnson
On Feb. 28, 1990, Eric Johnson released the iconic rock record “Ah Via Musicom.” This record sent a shockwave through the guitar world that would implement Johnson as a rock guitar legend. This album would later become platinum-selling and the track “Cliffs of Dover,” would grant Eric Johnson a Grammy in 1991 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
What sets this album apart from many of the rock records of the time was the sheer attention to detail and artistic approach that opens listeners to a unique experience of music. Eric Johnson comes from a strong musical background with a multitude of different styles that influenced his tone and song composing that has reflected in his music career. Some of his influences, such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins and many others, would help him to create his signature playing style. Styles like blues, jazz, rock and country are prevalent in different tracks that keep “Ah Via Musicom” interesting and continuously flowing without being too overwhelming.
“Cliffs of Dover'' is Eric Johnson’s most iconic song. The airy lead into the title track “Ah Via Musicom'' sets the stage for “Cliffs.” It’s entirely instrumental but truly doesn’t fail to impress. “Cliffs of Dover” is a brilliant tune that perfectly balances Eric Johnson’s skill and the style he is known for. Eric used two distinct guitars in this recording: a Gibson ES-335 for the main tone and his 1954 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster in the bridge solo. “Cliffs of Dover” is still a main guitar staple today. It was even ranked number 17 in Guitar World’s list of the 100 greatest guitar solos.
The melodic and uplifting “Desert Rose'' is perhaps one of Johnson’s best vocal performances, as well as a harmonious guitar track. The warm lead tone and cascading, riveting solos create a strong lead into “Ah Via Musicom.” Each guitar solo continues to get better.
Another popular song from the record, “Trademark,” is dynamic, atmospheric and keeps a consistent, resonant sound. Different techniques such as string muting and dampening are used to create a richer sound and to add emphasis on the different effects used.
The last song on this iconic album, “East Wes,'' is a bright and rhythmic jazz track that was inspired by Wes Montgomery, one of EJ’s biggest musical influences. This song does not seem out of place when you get to the very end. Instead, it ties everything together and ends on a softer note to a fast-paced and energetic record.
More than half the songs are instrumental in “Ah Via Musicom,” so what makes it stand out? What Eric Johnson does so well in this record is the thoughtful songwriting and the very sensitive note choices that are carefully executed in every song. Also, Eric Johnson’s signature tone is unparalleled and adds a complete other dimension to the record. “Ah Via Musicom” doesn’t fall short in providing something for everyone. This masterful classic still connects with listeners of all genre backgrounds, and continues to inspire generations of music aficionados and new audiences alike.