Chuck Johnson – The Cinder Grove

Album Review | Glitterbeat | Review by Allan Wilkinson

When we think of the pedal steel guitar, we probably first think of how the instrument enhances country songs with moments of both joy and sorrow as the notes giggle and weep to form easily identifiable and often clichéd patterns.  I’m thinking of course of The Byrds version of Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”, The Flying Burrito Bros’ “Christine’s Tune” or perhaps Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Teach Your Children”, each of which is certainly enhanced by the pedal steel’s iconic sound.  For The Cinder Grove though, Chuck Johnson looks deep into the fabric of the instrument in search of it’s expansive tonal range, much in the same way as Fred Frith investigated the guitar’s possibilities in the early 1970s.  Adopting a minimalist approach, not unlike the work that Brian Eno made for airports, the world of the pedal steel is slowed down, its inviting arpeggios and melodic flurries reduced to sustained notes that evoke both the melting ice caps of Antarctica or the sand drifts of the Mojave Desert, there’s a stillness in the compositions that is both highly meditative and relaxing at the same time.  This is music that you can listen to in a state of eyes closed repose or with a good book.