Below Sea Level
Nola Blue Records
While still in high school Louisiana native Eric Johanson was already a soulful blues guitarist appearing on stages throughout the state. When heard by Tab Benoit, the young Johanson became the first guitarist/singer signed to his then new Whiskey Bayou Records. In 2017 Johanson released his debut “Burn It Down” produced and engineered by Benoit. The widely acclaimed album was soon nominated “Best Blues Album of 2018” by Offbeat Magazine. Johanson spent the next two years touring with Benoit as his opening act; and wound up touring worldwide for both Cyril Neville, and the Grammy winning Terrance Simien. Johanson has since appeared onstage with many others including Mike Zito, Anders Osborne and The Neville Brothers. In early 2019 Johanson collaborated with New Orleans’ blues and jazz vocalist Tiffany Pollack and released “Blues in My Blood”.
Johanson was invited on stage to perform with Luther Dickinson at an all-star jam held during the 2019 New Orleans Jazz Festival. Plans were made then for Dickinson to produce Johanson’s next record at the Dickinson family’s Zebra Ranch Studios in Coldwater, Mississippi. Recorded in late February 2020 the band includes Johanson, guitar and vocals; Terrence Grayson, bass; and Cody Dickinson, drums.
Johanson states that the twelve new originals “deal a lot with rebuilding and re-orientating the mind and one’s relationship to the world. With this album I was finally able to bring my blues and rock influences to a place of more imagination and creativity, while keeping it organic and honest. It’s contemporary music naturally grown from the roots of southern blues and psychedelic inspiration.”
Drummer Dickinson pounds out the beat on “Buried Above Ground” as Johanson’s dramatic guitar and vocal build steam. Johanson plays slide on the shuffle “Down To The Bottom”, the first track released to radio. Johanson’s soulful vocal “Changes The Universe” with a great guitar lead as Ray Jacildo sits in on organ. Johanson turns up the heat on “Never Tomorrow” the current track receiving airplay. My favorite is “River of Oblivion” with more of Johanson’s slide and the lyric “it’s another mother that lost her son” as the rhythm section completes the production. Throughout the recording it’s the tight rhythm section that enables Johanson especially on “Open Hearted Woman” with some outstanding bass from Grayson. The beautiful closer “Riverbend Blues” is more traditionally styled as Johanson plays solo on a National.
Johanson and company, have given us a fine blues rock album, worthy of consideration at the 2021 Blues Music Awards.