Eric Johnson + Mike Stern, “Benny Man’s Blues” from Eclectic: One Track Mind

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A fizzy combination of roots and jazz, like finding a particularly adept improvisational talent tearing through a front-porch picking session, “Benny Man’s Blues” lives up to the outsized, genre-bending expectations surrounding a studio pairing of Eric Johnson and Mike Stern. Johnson is, on one level, reaching back toward pre-war influences here like Charlie Christian. But Stern takes the song in expectedly modern places — and its fleet attitude seems to recall nothing so much as bluegrass.

Elsewhere on the aptly titled Eclectic, Johnson offers an answer song to his best-known moment, 1990’s Grammy-winning “Cliffs of Dover.” There’s the greasy funk of “Roll with It” from Stern, and the Wes Montgomery-ish “Tidal” from Johnson. It’s that kind of record.

There’s a overt nod to John Coltrane on the modal journey that is “Remember,” before they conclude with a scalding exploration of Jimi Hendrix’s titanic “Red House” — complete with a vocal debut from Stern. In fact, the connection to Hendrix runs as a thread through Eclectic, which also finds references to “Third Stone from the Sun” embedded within both “Remember” and “Dry Ice,” the old Electromagnets tune.

Due October 27, 2014 via Concord Music Group’s Heads Up, Eclectic was recorded at Johnson’s Austin studio and features drummer Anton Fig and bassist Chris Maresh, a regular Johnson collaborator who also wrote “Bigfoot” — this roiling, Bitches Brew-inspired excursion that also features Mike’s wife Leni on vocals and the n’goni, a stringed instrument from Africa. Christopher Cross (yes, that Christopher Cross) adds backing vocals on Stern’s “Wishing Well.” Malford Milligan, an Austin-based R&B singer, joins them for “Roll With It,” while blues harpist Guy Forsythe gooses “Red House” along.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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