Californian-based guitarist and soundtrack composer Chuck Johnson has used the pedal steel (and other guitars) across a couple of very fine albums, but where, then, they were one component of the sound here they’re centre-stage; so much so that it’s almost as if he took the idea of Daniel Lanois’ treated guitars from Eno’s Apollo: Atmosphere’s and Soundtracks and wanted to place it in a space similar to the world made by William Tyler on his Modern Country album.
Where Tyler uses the guitar as the subtle star behind a band sand, Johnson leaves the pedal steel all but floating in space; soft bass notes the only anchor to these textural soundscapes.
The music on Balsams is Eno-esque in its capacity to appear as musical mantra, a meditation, a musing.
That transfixing quality is what carries this album – a record that has arrived at the right time in my life; no doubt the right time for Johnson too and for all and any who find it and hold it dear.
As a soundtrack to any aim for a more contemplative life – the chance to just stare out the window being a fine one – Balsams is picturesque and scenic, rather than scene-stealing; subtly evocative, calming and ethereal. It’s a set of drifts and wafts and weaves from a weeping, mournful instrument – but there’s nothing overtly sad about this tone nor this music. It’s quite majestic in fact; a flowing river of reverie, the calmness we all need in music (and in life).