Arrangers: Eric Johnson ; Richard Mullen ; Roscoe Beck; Tommy Taylor.
By Eric Johnson's standards, the five-year gap between 2005's Bloom and 2010's Up Close is swift. It's the shortest time between albums since Ah Via Musicom followed Tones by a mere four years and although Up Close could hardly be called spontaneous, it does have a looseness that's often absent in Johnson's work, perhaps because it trades so heavily on the guitarist's Texas roots, a point he underscores by having songs called "Texas" and "Austin." Naturally, this means there's a bunch of blues on Up Close, which finds room for cameos by Steve Miller, Jimmie Vaughan, Jonny Lang, and Sonny Landreth, but even these moments don't bear much grit because dirt is not part of Johnson's repertoire. He prefers clean and sculpted, an aesthetic that runs from his tone to his rhythms. He remains indebted to the fusion etched out by Jeff Beck on Blow by Blow but he no longer is taking it to the extremes, as when he divided Bloom into movements. Up Close is merely Eric Johnson served straight-up: it is not far removed from the feel of Ah Via Musicom, lacking only the major melodies that sucked in crossover listeners, but Johnson's journey is not one of innovation, it's of refinement and he continues to find interesting ways to hone his specific craft on Up Close. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine