Guitarist Eric Johnson's new release, "Bloom," is a concept album of sorts, an ambitious but flawed pop triptych.
Each of its distinct sections -- "Prelude," "Courante" and "Allemande" -- offers something worth hearing, and in several cases worth hearing again and again. The biggest plus, as usual, is Johnson's versatile technique on electric and acoustic guitar, but his melodic flair is evident from the outset. In fact, it's hard to imagine many fans who've followed Johnson's recording career over the past 20 years not enjoying the way he nimbly traverses guitar styles on "Bloom." He lets rip with a freewheeling, blues-soaked rock anthem ("Summer Jam"), conjures exotic (and unamplified) moods ("Sea Secret"), turns up the twang while saluting a fellow picker and country cousin ("Tribute to Jerry Reed"), and goes retro long enough to rejuvenate '70s fusion grooves ("Magnetized").
The lulls come when Johnson sings. Though he's not a bad vocalist, he isn't a particularly expressive one, either. His cover of Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages" suggests an updated Byrds-inspired take on the tune, but Johnson's wistful croon never makes much of an impression. The dreamy soul ballad "Sunnaround You" is a better choice, given Johnson's vocal limitations, but the trite lyrics eventually take a toll. The only vocal track that invites repeat spins is the soaring pop ballad "Your Sweet Eyes," which features guest Shawn Colvin on harmonies. Even here, though, Johnson's eloquent fretwork nearly steals the show.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Sunday at the Birchmere.