Damon Johnson is a class act. His dedication to his craft, coupled with an unbridled enthusiasm and can-do attitude is infectious, as anyone who’s either seen him live or even watched an interview with him can attest. Whether he’s got an acoustic guitar strapped on and entertaining fifteen people in a dingy bar, or playing to thousands from a huge festival stage, the Alabama native gives nothing less than 100%. Unsurprisingly then, ‘Echo’ - his first ever electric solo release - reflects this unflinchingly positive disposition, finding Johnson in fiercely fiery form.
Slowly making his way over the last decade or so from go-to musician to committed band member via stints with the likes of Alice Cooper and Thin Lizzy before finding a stable home in Lizzy-offshoot Black Star Riders, Damon has honed his craft working with some of the best. Happily, this schooling has paid off, and ‘Echo’ showcases a mature song-writing approach that stands alongside Black Star Riders’ excellent 2014 release ‘The Killer Instinct’ as ranking among his most consistent work.
Working once again with ‘The Killer Instinct’ producer Nick Raskulinecz, ‘Echo’ carries on in a similar sonic style, offering a succinct fistful of tracks from Johnson’s Americana-steeped soul, that run the gambit from contemporary rockers to everyman anthems.
The filthy-riffed ‘Dead’ kicks things off. Slow, mean, and sexy, it exists on a musical plain where Velvet Revolver meets Alter Bridge. It’s little surprise then that Johnson’s vocals conjure Myles Kennedy, both here and on later tracks like the closing ‘Just Move On’.
As a singer Damon is no doubt solid, but it’s with axe in hand that his real talents lie, and with soloing that veers from slow and melodic, to fast and furious, where every last note it seems is being squeezed from the neck of his Les Paul, ‘Echo’ is filled with his signature slick style. Johnson never overplays however, and this is none more apparent than on the driving ‘Nobody Usin’. A Thin Lizzy-style, grooving rocker, it’s not a far stretch to imagine Phil Lynott singing it. With a colourful, harmonised chorus, like its subject matter, it gets right under the skin.
Elsewhere, the moody, ‘The Waiting Kills Me’ again piles on the melody, however it’s the bleedin-hearted ‘Scars’ that offers ‘Echo’s standout. Uplifting and glorious, its “nothing is easy when it hurts” chorus is infectious, and will have some raising a fist in the air on repeated plays.
Complaints? It’s just too darn short. Johnson has assembled a solid trio with drummer Jarred Pope and bassist Tony Nagy, and ‘Echo’ hopefully hints at more to come from the band. In the meantime, this will do just fine. A resounding success.
By Eamon O'Neill on 18th May 2016.
'Echo' is released on 27th May.