Chuck Johnson :: The Cinder Grove

When writing about Chuck Johnson’s pedal steel-centric records, it’s tempting to use words like “soothing” and “blissful.” And while you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, Johnson is up to more here than aural escapism. Much more. His latest lp, The Cinder Grove, is a positively gripping experience from start to finish, full of tones and zones that spark the imagination and encourage deep listening. As with his previous pedal steel opus, Balsams, the vibe is slo-mo—but Johnson isn’t sleepwalking. He has us hanging on every note, every descending chord progression, every solar flare melody. With valuable contributions from Sarah Davachi, Marielle Jakobsons, Hilary Lewis and Crystal Pascucci, the five tracks here drift beautifully but they don’t meander. There’s a focus and intention that comes across with absolute clarity. You can certainly trance out to The Cinder Grove if that’s what you’re in the mood for; however, there’s a whole world to discover beneath the surface. | t wilcox

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