It is not unusual for acoustic players to have spent time playing rock but there can’t be too many fingerstyle guitarists with Chuck Johnson’s background. Before taking up fingerstyle guitar in the 1990s, Johnson had played avant garde rock, became interested in Minimalist composition and had developed a serious and continuing interest in electronic music. In 2009 he completed an MFA in Electronic Music and Intermedia Art and he marries the worlds of fingerstyle and electronics under the term Folk Minimalism. Don’t let this hint of academia put you off this wonderful album.
‘Blood Moon Boulder‘, the title of which probably refers to eclipses of the moon visible in Boulder, Colorado, is a collection of six originals of which three are straight fingerstyle guitar in the John Fahey tradition and two are slide guitar pieces. The sixth is the only electric guitar track on the album and here the slide is replaced by pedal steel. Throughout, the playing is precise; the recording is sharp and clean.
The opening track Corvid Tactics starts with slow slide work, underpinned by simple arpeggios, which is more reminiscent of Hindustani slide guitar than Americana.The overall effect is one of space and calm. At around four minutes there is the beginnings of a merger and at around eight we are in the country of Americana driven by the bounce heard in the American Primitive school. This gives the long piece (twelve minutes or so) a real sense of movement which leads to the rest of the album.
Silver Teeth in the Sun, is a much more straightforward fingerstyle piece in the Fahey tradition. It has a drive which carries on where Corvid Tactics leaves off. Admittedly all reaction to music is subjective, but I cannot help but see this track as a (rail?) journey through striking mountain scenery. Even the set of strummed chords in the middle feel like a tipping point…top of the hill?
Medicine Map, seems to continue the notion of taking the listener down from the hills to the more gentle scenery of the plain. The writing and playing is akin to Silver Teeth but softer. This feeling is continued in the following track Inversion Layer which has a sense of imminent, then actual arrival.
Track five, The Deer and the Snake, returns to slide guitar but this time closer to Paris, Texas while still offering hints of the Hindustani feel in the opening track. The album is back to stillness, the sense of forward movement is gone to be replaced with foreboding if not outright menace. The bells under the continuo of the sustained ending somehow don’t quite relieve the tension. The result is unnerving.
Track six, Private Violence, is quite simply a gorgeous conversation between sparse electric guitar lead and pedal steel. Run your own film in your head…mine is a Tex/Mex bar room full of hard bitten Good Old Boys, raised on Cheatin’ Songs and crying into their beer ‘cos the band is so damn good.
If you love just to listen to or, like me, love to play the acoustic guitar…buy this album it will reward you for a lifetime.
Review by: Nick Dellar
Blood Moon Boulder is out now via Scissor Tail Records
Order it via Bandcamp: https://scissortail.bandcamp.com/album/blood-moon-boulder