On top of some great soundtrack work, Chuck Johnson has spent the last few years carving out his own corner of the solo acoustic guitar landscape. His work culminated in last year’s excellent and way underrated Blood Moon Boulder. Now he follows that up with Velvet Arc, a record that moves Johnson back into full-band mode. The record recalls his work with groups like Idyll Swords and (in particular) Shark Quest, but never repeats either. Instead, Velvet Arc plays like a master class in exploring a variety of guitar traditions.
The excellent desert blues of opener “As I Stand Counting” blends blues traditions with some faint post-rock angles. “Everything at Once” circles through the same repeating slide riffs, letting bass runs dive through small holes, creating something both tied to pastoral folk and something indescribably, even otherworldly. While those two songs fill up space, “Anamet” carves it out, making for haunting darkness around every note and setting us up for the reimagined American Primitive of the title track. The album manages to experiment at every turn, while also drawing the listener in. Velvet Arc plays in folk, rock, and blues traditions, which adds familiarity, but never fails to surprise. The rhythm section doesn’t bolster the guitar here but rather stretches out its shadow, while Johnson himself often lets the guitar fall away in favor of putting the bass up front or letting some strings bleed out over the track.
This is music that is intricate but never overly showy. Johnson is the kind of player that can find fascination in both complicated structures and the pure beauty of a single note hit just right. Velvet Arc is detailed yet inviting, deeply complex yet vibrant, and a must-hear record from top to bottom.