FAME Review: Noel Johnston - Salted Coffee
Noel Johnston - Salted Coffee

Salted Coffee

Noel Johnston

Armored Records - ARCD8039

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Remember those great Guitar Recordings label CDs made, basically, for guitaists and aficionados of sublime six-string musics? I do, and I still have a bunch of them in my collection. Love 'em to death. Over and above what Metal Blade, Shrapnel, and various other labels were trotting out (far too much of it pure pap), the GR stuff was connoisseur level…not necessarily because all the players were Al DiMeolas or Eddie Van Halens or Jimi Hendrixes but because they crafted cool-ass tunes and played extremely well. That was what counted: non-stop great guitar playing and good damn songs. Well, that's what you hear with Noel Johnston as well.

In fact, you get that plus the kind of thinking and imagination that made the way-back proto-players and groups so attractive: Adrian Gurvitz, Clear Blue Sky, UFO circa Mick 'Prince Kajuku' Bolton, Toe Fat, and so on. Man, were those ever the days!, and Salted Coffee brings together both worlds. Completely instrumental, every cut here is a display of writing and playing acumen. Johnston's bold with his power chords and pedals but intelligent and complex in his writing. No bullshit arena anthemics, no tears-from-heaven saccharine ballads, no time-filling nonsense, just rip-roaring pyrotechnics.

Comparisons are being made to Van Halen and such, but I couldn't disagree more. Johnston's much grittier, more like Mike Landau or Doug Pinnick (of King's X, whom Johnston digs the hell out of) especially in take-no-prisoners tour de force cuts like the completely subversive treatment of Lennon & McCartney's Because. The Beatles haven't been so inventively, so roughly, and so energetically treated since Pure Food & Drug Act cut their unforgettable take on Eleanor Rigby. Ah, but then ya get to cool out with the breezy classic Poinciana and Johnston's jazz profile…but only for a while, 'cause the trio soon turns it upside down and wails. Throughout the entire CD, Jeff Plant displays dexterous and colorful celerity on bass (catch his solo on Poinciana) and JT Thomas mans a set of traps that doesn't just collate time but pushes emphatics…and I don't know what he's doing in that one repeating riff in Poinciana, sounds like a slightly off-simul-synch double-tap, but I've never heard it before.

And, yeah, for those who are curious, I still have all my old Chastain, Michael Fath, and sundry other guitar-whiz releases. That stuff never goes out of fashion for a true music lover. Nor does this, though Johnston outclasses those bad boyz and is in demand as a session cat for diverse folk like Adam Nussbaum, Dave Liebman, Lucky Peterson, Kenny Wheeler (!), and others. This is his second release, and it's more than obvious we're only hearing the beginning of a talent much deserving of its own showcase.

Track List:

  • Salted Coffee (Johnston / Lettieri)
  • Inner Urge (Joe Henderson)
  • Big 8008 (Noel Johnston)
  • Bat Tips (Noel Johnston)
  • Dark Blues (Johnston / Lettieri)
  • Because (Lennon / McCartney)
  • Poinciana (Nat Simon)
  • The Fall (Noel Johnston)

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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