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Blues-rocker Eric Johanson promises to "Burn It Down" on debut LP

Whiskey Bayou Records
"Burn It Down" is the debut album from Alexandria, La. native and blues rocker Eric Johanson.
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ALBUM REVIEW: Eric Johanson – Burn It Down (Whiskey Bayou Records) 2017

Storms have played a big role in my life. And I was reminded of this yesterday while talking to a friend of mine whose husband was doing some work in south Louisiana and she was staying in a hotel in the Cajun city of Houma. This was, she said, in about 2004.

She said that while she was there, a torrential downpour and storm hit Houma, as they often do, and the streets quickly flooded as she was leaving a bookstore.  That caught my attention, as I had lived in Alexandria, Louisiana at that same time and had driven to Houma for the sole purpose of going to a bookstore – but when I reached the town, a terrible storm opened up in the sky and torrents of rain flooded the street, preventing me from reaching my destination.

When we began talking more about it, we agreed that it was probably the same bookstore, the same day, the same storm. Stunning coincidence, eh?

The bayou country of south Louisiana is like that. Full of mystery. Intrigue. Synchronicity. And lots and lots of folks who are talented in the arts. Among them are longtime Louisiana blues rocker Tab Benoit, a guitar-playing cat from Houma who was touted by B.B. King as a tremendous talent. And he is.

So, when Benoit came to VZD’s last month, I was stunned by Benoit’s opening act (with Benoit rocking out behind the drum kit!) Eric Johanson. (Read my review of that show here).

Eric Johanson playing at VZD's in August 2018. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

Wearing a “Defend New Orleans” T-shirt (which began appearing in the years after Hurricane Katrina – and a storm that played a role in my leaving Louisiana in the broad daylight and putting down roots in Oklahoma), Johanson appeared completely comfortable on VZD’s small stage as he let the blues rip from his guitar amp, casting a spell over those who were listening and watching.

It was amazing watching such a talented guy in that space off Western. And, as I would learn after Johanson’s opening set, he was from Alexandria! While I tried to talk “Alec” stuff with him, Johanson was friendly but distracted. I can imagine that being a result of working so hard during that all-too-brief opening set, where he played songs like “Live Oak” and “Till We Bleed” and “Burn It Down.” That last one being the title track for Johanson’s debut album, produced by Tab Benoit at his Whiskey Bayou Studios there in magical, mystical Houma, Louisiana, where the storms come off the Gulf like clockwork and add a watery, surreal and dreamy quality to the air and landscape. And it comes through on Johanson’s Burn It Down LP.

I picked up Burn It Down (Johanson was kind enough to autograph my copy) and found myself playing it over and over in my office. Did it make me miss Louisiana a bit? You bet! Once Louisiana is a part of you, it is always a part of you. And with Johanson having that Alexandria connection (did you know Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly met a contact of Jack Ruby at the historic Bentley Hotel in downtown Alexandria in those strange days before the JFK assassination?), well, how could I resist?

I knew most of the musicians and acts in and around Alexandria in that first half of the first decade of the 21st century, covering music as I did for The Town Talk. As Johanson told me, by the time I was covering music, he had moved to New Orleans and was getting taught in the unique ways of the Crescent City (with Cyril Neville – and others – until Katrina forced Johanson to make a life change, resulting in a few years living in New Zealand, before returning to New Orleans and collaborating with Benoit).

Speaking of the Bayou State, on this 11-track record, Johanson gives a shout-out to his home state on “Oh Louisiana,” a song some may remember Chuck Berry recording for his 1971 album San Francisco Dues. As the singer says, he has been away from Louisiana “too long” missing his “Creole baby” and “Cajun queens.” Johanson makes Berry's underrated early 70's classic all his own. 

And while I covered a lot of the sweet swamp-pop from artists out of Acadiana towns like Ville Platte and Opelousas, Johanson’s Cenla roots are decidedly “mixed” about where life is going. He lets the muse help him along as those chords and riffs conjure up thoughts and feelings that only the blues can assuage.

The aforementioned “Live Oak” is about the strength of a city like New Orleans, despite Mother Nature’s onslaught in 2005. Like the ancient live oaks of this low-lying land – from the days before the Civil War and Jean Lafitte – these live oaks are familiar with the struggle. There is some real, heartfelt poetry here.

Johanson and Benoit collaborated in writing the swampy, slow-burning blues number “Graveyard Queen,” one of the highlights on this record.

“4 In the Morning” has Johanson demanding another shot of whiskey because he ain’t going home. This is a track where Johanson lets it rip and roar in bluesey fashion while the rhythm section of Benoit on drums and Corey Duplechin on bass find a most-pleasing groove that will put you in a headspace where you imagine you are in that barroom with Johanson, who, as he sings, is afraid that all that drinking and smoking and feeling blue will put him "in the ground." Who hasn't been there?

And then you feel like you are “on the run” with the plaintive Johanson (sounding like Cody Canada of Cross Canadian Ragweed and The Departed fame) and his slide guitar on “The Fugitive,” a story-song/cautionary folk-blues song with a galloping beat and spooky, chain-gang-esque backing vocals that bring to mind a Delta levee about to reach its breaking point. My only complaint (if you can even call it that) is that it's not longer. I really feel it calls for another verse and ending that isn't a fade out. But that's just one man's opinion.

The final two tracks - "So Cold" and "On My Own" - prove that Johanson (clearly an admirer of the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan) deserves to be seen on the same level as fellow Louisiana blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd (originally from Shreveport). I really can't say enough good things about Burn It Down. I just hope Johanson is working on new material for his next record. As long as he is working with Tab Benoit, it's all good.

For more information on Eric Johanson, his new record and current tour dates, go here.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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