Sound — 9
"Ah Via Musicom" might probably be the best of Eric Johnson's albums, best representing the breadth and vision of his guitar tones, songwriting, and overall musical purpose. The album pieces together a blend of tunes that are stylistically different, but each of which have their own character. Of course, EJ's signature tone (the fluid, heavy electric lead sound) sounds exceptional and is well-placed; it doesn't dominate each song, but compliments the other differently-toned tracks well. A good example is the start of the album, with the heavenly title track leading directly into "Cliffs Of Dover," the mammoth, incendiary instrumental rock piece EJ is best known for. "Desert Rose" follows with its excellent pop intentions played through pure clean/chorused passages mixed with fast, heavy, psychedelic solos. "High Landrons" has some incredible, scorching, flanged guitar tones reminiscent of Hendrix' "House Burning Down." The album might in fact contain the best of EJ's guitar fireworks and pop-oriented songs in one sitting. Taking into account the aforementioned songs, plus pieces like "Trademark" (another upbeat dreamy pop instrumental), "Righteous" (a high-energy virtuosic jam), and "Forty Mile Town" (a slow ballad-like vocal piece), you might get the sense that EJ was peaking in terms of songwriting and composing from 1987-1989, the era where most of these pieces were written and recorded. "Ah Via Musicom" does seem like a kind of bridge between the mid-'80's "Tones" and mid "90's "Venus Isle" albums, but it serves a far better purpose than simply connecting one era to another. This album was labored over by EJ for a couple of years to ensure the high standards he stands by. And the perfectionism paid off in the form of some memorable songs and unforgettable guitar solos.
Lyrics — 6
EJ is well known for writing mostly spiritual and uplifting, upbeat lyrics to his songs. That didn't change with "Ah Via Musicom." It had many of the same lyrical themes heard on "Tones," just not as overly pop-driven. His singing and vocal phrasing are much of the same as they are on "Tones," not the greatest vocals, but this is not the reason to avoid EJ. Hendrix wasn't a great vocalist either, but that doesn't mean he wasn't expressive or emotional in his phrasings. Same goes with EJ. His thin voice falls into a kind of Bryan Adams territory, but EJ isn't nearly as forceful as Adams was. EJ's fans will always buy his albums for the guitar playing first, vocals and arrangements second.
Overall Impression — 9
"Ah Via Musicom" is an impressive record filled with incredible tones, different moods, and plenty of energy. Capitol (and Reprise, for "Tones"), would serve themselves and many fans well by re-mastering, re-packaging, and re-releasing this album, as it is already becoming a sort of lost classic of the early Nineties that is due some more recognition. The album is a must-own for any EJ fan or instrumental rock fan in general.