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Richard Leo Johnson - The Legend of Vernon McAlister

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Artist: Richard Leo Johnson

Album: The Legend of Vernon McAlister

Label: Cuneiform

Review date: Mar. 19, 2006

This album represents a significant departure for Richard Leo Johnson. The Georgia-based acoustic guitarist usually plays fancy custom-made double-necked instruments, but a fortuitous encounter with a beat-up old National Duolian steel guitar lead to this record. It isn't the first time that chance has shaped Johnson's life; the former architectural photographer only devoted himself to music full time after his studio burned down in 1996, taking a whole career's worth off work with it. Fortunately this accident was a happier one, because The Legend of Vernon McAlister is an eminently approachable effort.

Despite this embrace of an antique instrument and the fictitious narrative set long ago that he concocted to frame the album (you can read it at www.vernonmcalister.com), Johnson's music is not particularly old-fashioned. His reliance on outboard effects, most notable an e-bow, makes him sound at times like a pastoral Robert Fripp. His arrangements, accomplished via overdubbing, betray a sense of harmony that has more in common with post-Presley pop than pre-war blues. And Johnson's appreciation for placing novel sound effects within accessible melodies is at once less rigorous and more playful than, say, John Fahey's more outré excursions. The result is a record that flows from bucolic reverie to eerie fantasia with ease.

By Bill Meyer

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