Chuck Johnson
The Cinder Grove


3.5
great

Review

by hel9000 CONTRIBUTOR (21 Reviews)
February 11th, 2021 | 12 replies


Release Date: 02/05/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Johnson's latest continues his exploration of pedal steel guitar ambience and adds a few more subtle elements.

As someone partial to pedal steel guitar and ambient music, Chuck Johnson’ last album Balsams was an absolute slam dunk. The Oakland guitarist traded in his steel acoustic theatrics for the transformative possibilities of pedal steel on that record, which almost entirely consisted of slowly shifting chords cloaked in reverb that spread out among circling leads and deep organ tones. It was a meandering work to be sure, but a luminous and surprisingly affecting one as well. Johnson continues this pedal steel-heavy approach with his latest record The Cinder Grove, a more introspective album where he slightly expands his arrangements to great effect.

It’s apparent as soon as “Riz de Maree” opens the record with a looping organ figure that The Cinder Grove is a different beast than its predecessor in subtle but critical ways—when Johnson’s pedal steel eventually floats in, it feels more ornamental than before, an adornment for the other elements rather than the main spectacle. Where Balsams had a hazy feeling where pretty much any sound you hear could be pedal steel, Johnson blends those languid and spacey tones throughout this record with a string quartet and piano, along with more prominent organ and synth pads, to create uniquely voluminous hybrids. The Cinder Grove is a more collaborative effort in this regard, and is better for it: on “Red Branch Bell”, Johnson’s pedal steel meekly opens the track, and backs away to allow for a string quartet to wade through five minutes of darkly churning chords. His guitar might still be in there, but if it is, it’s swallowed up in the whirlpool of cloudy ambiance, merely another piece of a larger whole. Later, on final track “The Laurel”, Johnson takes the opposite approach as washed-out strings hover above his emotive pedal steel playing, the pallid melancholy of “Red Branch Bell” replaced with a skyward optimism. Although The Cinder Grove builds on the sonic foundations set from Balsams only slightly, each new addition to Johnson’s sound feels entirely welcome and easily melts into his arresting pedal-steel playing.

Johnson’s sound remains very subtle, even with that added instrumentation. The five songs here tend to bleed together, the instruments even more so. Parts throughout the album draw your attention immediately—the piano on “Constellation”, the careening leads on “Serotiny”—but The Cinder Grove can slip into the background fairly easily, providing an undemanding ambient experience that “goes well with a good book or cup of coffee”™. There are a handful of sections throughout the record that feel amorphous, or like a connecting piece to a more elaborately arranged and written section; these spaces can feel like a baseline that Johnson returns to before a more musically engaging part starts to build. Still, nothing on The Cinder Grove feels tossed off or lazy. Even the most wandering ambient sections feel carefully considered and meticulously crafted.

Like Balsams before it, The Cinder Grove brings to mind gorgeous country sunsets—an immense expanse where pastel colours are born slowly and die out slower, mixing and separating in an unhurried manner; a casually arresting scene you can ignore entirely or immerse yourself in. It's a record filled with dazzling sounds and big, hazy emotions. And despite an occasional tendency to slip into the background, Johnson’s latest album is another deeply felt and deceptively rich record that rewards close listening.



Recent reviews by this author
Bob Dylan Slow Train ComingSloping Completed Songs
Biosphere Angel's FlightJesu Terminus
Mary Lattimore Silver LaddersKhotin Finds You Well
user ratings (7)
3.4
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
February 11th 2021


2198 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Nice review! This looks interesting and I'll be sure to check it out

hel9000
Contributing Reviewer
February 11th 2021


1158 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Ty sunny! hope you enjoy.

dedex
Contributing Reviewer
February 12th 2021


7551 Comments


Sounds like a nice album to watch the sunset to! Great rev m'dude

Digging: Andy Stott - Never the Right Time

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
February 12th 2021


1554 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Oooh found my next album to read to. Beautiful review. Ambient slide guitar is something I never anticipated wanting until I knew it existed

hel9000
Contributing Reviewer
February 12th 2021


1158 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks guys! Yeah this’ll suit both of those quite nicely I believe

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
February 13th 2021


2198 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Pretty stuff, glad I checked this out!

hel9000
Contributing Reviewer
February 15th 2021


1158 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Nice! If you liked this I highly recommend Balsams

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
February 16th 2021


1554 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I enjoyed this but wish there was a bit more of the slide guitar, seemed a little ambient by numbers otherwise, but that’s not a bad thing. Was certainly very good reading music!

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
February 16th 2021


2198 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Checking Balsams now, pretty nice stuff!

hel9000
Contributing Reviewer
February 17th 2021


1158 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

@mathias that’s fair enough, it’s a bit disappointing that the pedal steel isn’t as much of a focus here for me too



@sunny yeah it’s pretty good stuff eh? Nothing mind blowing but some nice warm vibes

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
April 4th 2021


1554 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Just checked Balsams and really enjoyed it - Been returning to this one as atmosphere music pretty often too

hel9000
Contributing Reviewer
April 6th 2021


1158 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

glad to hear mat!



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2019 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy