Ah Via Musicom is the second studio album by guitarist Eric Johnson from the year 1990. The album remained on the Billboard 200 chart for 60 weeks and peaked at number 67. All four of the singles from the album charted on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart with three of them reaching the top 10. The track Cliffs of Dover, which happens to be one of my personal favourite Eric Johnson songs did the best, reaching number 5 and it also went on to win a Grammy award for the best rock instrumental performance in 1992.
The album features songs which are dedicated to other guitar players. Steve’s Boogie is dedicated to Austin-based pedal steel guitarist Steve Hennig and Song for George is dedicated to a guitarist friend of his named George Washington (not to be confused with a political leader with the same name.) East Wes is dedicated to jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery and takes its name from the album East-West by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
Robert Taylor at AllMusic gave Ah Via Musicom 4 and a half stars out of 5 stating that it has reached near-classic proportions within the guitar community, but I mostly know the album as that one that features Cliffs of Dover. Much like my last review, this is the first time that I’m sitting down and listening to this album from start to finish. I know of a few tracks from this album already, and I’ve heard and watched Eric’s guitar performances many times before so needless to say, this is an experience I’m looking forward to.
Did Robert Taylor at AllMusic get it right? Is this album near perfect? Is it more than that? Or not? Let’s find out.
Ah Via Musicom #1 Ah Via Musicom (Johnson, Steve Barber)
Here we go. The album opens with a 2-minute-long self-titled track and I reckon that I’ve already summarised this one because Ah Via Musicom’s Ah Via Musicom is a cool little album opener. It’s on the atmospheric side, and it does a grand old job of setting a tone. For me, this is okay with a sprinkling of very good. I certainly wasn’t blown away, but there were definitely a few highlights and I’ve heard albums open a lot worse than this. The 16th note lick that we get just before the 1-minute mark is rather epic, but I guess the track didn’t kick on in the way I was expecting. If I were to be an Arse, I could use the word underwhelming but that would be a tad harsh. Maybe even extremely harsh. It does a job without setting the world on fire.
Ah Via Musicom #2 Cliffs of Dover
As I mentioned earlier, Cliffs of Dover is one of my favourite pieces by Eric Johnson, probably my top track actually and for good reason. This instrumental masterpiece has one of the most amazing and grand guitar openings that I’ve ever heard and there is no downhill from there as we move into a track with a solid beat and upbeat mood that’s powerd by a crisp driving guitar melody which makes excellent use of hooks and repetition. We’re also treated to some sublime locked in lead stuff which is controlled and smooth and neat and tidy throughout and the outro is almost as good as the intro. Want to hear an example of the perfect instrumental guitar song? Listen to Cliffs of Dover. That recurring melody is going to be stuck in my head all night.
Ah Via Musicom #3 Desert Rose (Johnson, Vince Mariani)
Desert Rose is another track that opens brilliantly and continues that trend throughout, but this is rather different to Cliffs of Dover as it isn’t instrumental. I’ll get to the vocal side of the track shortly but first; I must mention that backing guitar because it’s honestly perfect at every point, complimenting what’s going on around it elegantly. On the subject of rhythmic support, the drums are mixed to perfection and as much as I hate to do it, I have to tip my hat to the bass because wow, what a show. The vocal performance is at worst good and the vocal melody is very pleasant and warm but I reckon the vocal side of the track is overshadowed by the lead guitar which crosses the line from very good lead guitar performance to virtuoso hyper lead guitar performance. Honestly, the lead guitar in this track is pretty dam mind blowing and not just because the licks are fancy.
Ah Via Musicom #4 High Landrons
Landrons keeps the trend of strong openings going with an incredible lead guitar focused introduction which takes the album to another dimension in terms of sound. It sets the tone and lets you know that you’re in for an experience if nothing else. The vocals are warm and passionate, and the melody is more than serviceable but for me once again, the show is stolen by the instrumental side of the track and the showstopper spaceship lead guitar performance. One may argue that this one doesn’t feel as tight as the previous one, but I say that it’s a track with an amazing chill atmosphere that you can get lost in. There’s plenty of interesting experiences that more than carry us through a long run time. Some may say that this one is too long, but I can’t think of anything I’d like to cut. Even the fade out (almost) works for me. I really hate fade outs. This is a curious and interesting piece of music featuring more next level lead.
Ah Via Musicom #5 Steve’s Boogie
The genre shifting Steve’s Boogie is up next and first things first, I’m glad this one is shorter because this is the last track that I’m reviewing today and my head hurts. One could argue that this one is safe compared to other material on the album but that’s not always a bad thing and when push comes to shove, I enjoy the track. I like the chirpy feel of it and I very much like the chromatic stuff that we hear in the intro and throughout. The bow tied outro is very neat and pleasing and I’m also a fan of the stop start nature of the piece (very clever) and I also like the muted lead parts. I think more could have been done with this one but sometimes, less is more. I’m more than happy with what we get from this track.
Trademark is a track that features a cool groove and rhythm and also, a sublime bass guitar performance that I absolutely loved. One may be concerned on first impressions as to whether the aforementioned groove would carry us through the entirety of the song without becoming stale but thanks to a good range of dynamics and some masterful and tasteful lead guitar, this is not a problem. I found that I was hooked early on and captivated throughout. This is a track that I can’t fault. Is there room for further development? Maybe, but I think Eric gets it pretty much spot on
#7 Nothing Can Keep Me from You
The first thing that I noticed in Nothing Can Keep Me From You was the bass. Once again, the bass guitar is instantly identifiable as a standout piece of this non-instrumental puzzle. The best instrument in the world is not one to be overshadowed though as the perfectly reverbed guitar playing from start to end is sublime. I love the little run at the end of the verse sections and the two instrumental parts are epic without being balls to the wall solos. That is, until the end where we take an enjoyable trip to guitar solo city via a tunnel (because there’s great reverb on the guitars throughout..) The vocals are once again a nice experience, but the instrumentation is a level above. This is a long song, but it flew by and I enjoyed it every step of the way. Until the outro. Not crazy for the outro.
#8 Song for George
Next up is Song for George and the summary of this one won’t be that long because the track is less than two minutes in length. But what a two minutes we get. This is our solo acoustic track. It has a nice vibe to it and I’m in love with those extraordinary recurring harmonics. I don’t think this track could be improved in any way. It’s totally perfect for what it is, and it demonstrates Eric’s versatility as a guitarist. This isn’t the type of guitar playing that Johnson is known for, yet he still does it to sheer perfection.
Righteous kicks in and right from the start, this feels like my kinda track. Love the rhythm and the rock n roll feel that this one has going for it. I guess you could argue that the first portion of the song stays in first gear and doesn’t get going. The rhythm guitar may feel a little repetitive to some, but when things do get going. Wow. All is forgiven soon enough when you realise that actually, the arrangement and structure of the song is perfect and by the end, I found myself really in to this one and not wanting it to end. I could have listened to this for a lot longer than three and a half minutes.
#10 Forty Mile Town
Oh, that’s nice. That was my first impression of Forty Mile Town. This silky, bright, warm, and deep piece of music is honestly best described as nice throughout. The clean and slick backing guitar compliments the gentle vocals brilliantly and everything ties together very neatly. The guitar doesn’t steal the show in this one, but it isn’t meant to. The captivating vocals take the gold here. This is my favourite non-instrumental of the album. There was a moment in there where I thought we were going to get a big guitar solo, but it didn’t come. I’d be interested to see what that would have sounded like but honestly, I didn’t miss it. This one drew me in with a big warm hug and didn’t let go.
#11 East Wes
And now we reach the final track of the album. East Wes. It’s not exactly difficult to hear the link to guitarist Wes Montgomery in this track. The octave work that you can hear throughout is elegantly delicious and that groove! I absolutely love the rhythm of this track and the performance of every instrument is mightily impressive. This piece is perfectly paced, and the lead licks are luscious at times. What a splendid way to wrap up a pretty much perfect album.
Pretty much perfect I think is an ideal way to summarise Ah Via Musicom. I referenced a past review during the intro and I did so because that review got it spot on to be honest. This multi-genre album showcases a musical genius at work. The guitars sound stunning on every single track and every track pulled me in with enticing sounds, admirable arrangements and music that simply made me smile. I’d encourage any guitar lover to listen to Ah Via Musicom from start to finish. It’s an album for those seeking some much needed escapism. It’s a captivating set of sensational songs that will grip you and not let you go for the entire 40 minutes and 58 seconds and it has a little bit of something for everyone.
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Hello. My name is Ryan J Mellor and I play the guitar. I’m also the creator of Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat. I’ve ben a guitarist for many years and my guitar playing has been described as “above average”. My guitar and music knowledge is somewhat impressive but most importantly, I have a passion for creating great guitar and music related content.