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Richard Leo Johnson — The Legend of Vernon McAlister
(Cuneiform Rune 222, 2006, CD)

by Peter Thelen, Published 2006-05-01

The Legend of Vernon McAlister Cover artUnique among guitarists, Richard Leo Johnson has forged his own sound through years of self-taught study on his instrument, developing unconventional tunings, fingerpicking styles, and various other ways of extracting the maximum amount of beauty, expressiveness, and raw emotion from the strings and fretboard. Last time around on 2004’s Poetry of Appliance, he worked in a trio format with a violin and keyboard supporting; this time out Johnson goes it pretty much solo, exclusively using a vintage 30s steel bodied resonator guitar; I love the sound of these things, so I’m already among the converted: the tone is rich and warm, a slightly compressed sound tonally compared to your regular old acoustic steel stringed guitar, but with a lot of overtones that give it unique character. Johnson plucks, strums, fingerpicks, scratches, slides, e-bows, plays the short side of the bridge, and squeezes sounds out of the guitar that you’ve probably never heard before, blending melody and rhythm in every conceivable way on the 20 compositions herein; no other instruments are used. And what of the title? Johnson found the name of Vernon McAlister – apparently one of its previous owners, etched into the body of the guitar. The whole story, myth and legend, can be found at www.vernonmcalister.com. While Johnson’s style is definitely his own creation, fans of Leo Kottke, Carl Weingarten, John Fahey, and Michael Hedges should find plenty to enjoy in his playing, compositions, and overall approach on this disc.

Filed under: New releases, Issue 33, 2006 releases

Related artist(s): Richard Leo Johnson

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