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“The Last Gun” by Eagle Johnson

Eagle Johnson has lived quite the rock n’ roll life. He’s traced the routes of ancient bluesmen in the American south, found solace in the stories of troubadours whose lives mirror his own, and taken direct influence from the junk-rock of the ‘70s that none of the retro stations are playing. Johnson’s harmonies beckon us closer to the core aesthetics of what the American rock tradition is really made of – and not what its commercialized cosmetics would paint it as – and they’re the bedrock of every exciting moment in his new solo effort The Last Gun.

In this album’s tracklist, every shade of this player’s colorful story comes into view and affords us a bridge into his artistry unlike anything he could have mustered with a proper band beside him. His vulnerabilities are left completely exposed in “Home,” “Natural Women,” and “Divided Hour,” while his swagger drunkenly spills into the steam he lets off via the riff-rock in the title track, “One Sun,” and “Hey Leona.” This is the Eagle Johnson you didn’t see coming, and he could be exactly what the American underground needs to get back in action this summer.

In The Last Gun, the guitar is always the central focus of our attention, and this is achieved both through the compositional techniques favored by our leading man and the way the record is mixing from start to finish. “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” deliberately throws as much of the percussion on top of the string play as possible to muzzle the barrage of melodic noise the guitar is emitting in the background, but it’s still not enough to quell the swell of thunderous overdrive Johnson is wielding at his fingertips. He’s giving us a lot of emotion at the mic, but little vitality in terms of his vocal depth in “Better Comin’ Days” and “We Are Africa.”

There’s nothing in these narratives that asks for ebullience on his part – quite the contrary from my viewpoint. If he was giving us a lusty delivery in some of these tracks, the indulgence we find in “Joey Got a New Job” and the haunting instrumental “Interlude #1” would seem rather pointless and unnecessary for the situation.

This is likely the best set of basement tapes on one disc to come out in the last seven months, and it wouldn’t surprise me if other critics shared my sentiments on Eagle Johnson’s The Last Gun this July. It’s an intensely DIY offering that is boldly revealing of its creator’s many talents – and numerous quirks as a songwriter. As a confirmed music nerd myself, I don’t think it’s possible to listen to The Last Gun without feeling Johnson’s hard-clutching of the guitar in a lot of this material, and his respect for the melodic canvas it affords his brush-like words is beautiful. I was expecting a lot out of this record just based on pedigree alone, but having listened to it now several times through, I can say it’s much more immersive than I initially expected.

John McCall

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