Chuck Johnson - The Cinder Grove Music Album Reviews

Chuck Johnson - The Cinder Grove Music Album Reviews
The California pedal steel guitarist makes inventive use of space and place on a quietly mournful album where lost forests and shuttered venues endure in intangible anonymity.

Depending on the hands and feet of the beholder, a pedal steel guitar can be an instrument of ecstatic heavenly worship or honky-tonk hellraising—or both. A pedal steel is a paintbrush, a tool for filling wide-open spaces with sagebrush and starlight. In any form, pedal-steel music often suggests a sense of weightless drift, a honeyed suspension of gravity as a player glides a stout, shiny little tone bar over electrified strings.
Following several albums focused on fingerpicked guitar, Chuck Johnson turned his attention toward the pedal steel on 2017’s liquidy Balsams. He’s spent the intervening years applying it in other realms, building duets with Marielle Jakobsons in Saariselka and cutting a record with synth-and-bass-clarinet duo Golden Retriever. He approached his newest solo project, The Cinder Grove, hoping to explore spaces and memory, spiraling through more ambiguous realms with less concrete thematic associations. The record stretches deeper into a pool of contemplative, ambient-leaning pedal-steel records that’s expanded significantly since Balsams.

Based in Oakland, California, Johnson makes inventive use of both space and place on The Cinder Grove. He developed his own digital toolkit for the project, culling echo and reverb effects from performance recordings he’d made in Oakland DIY spaces since rendered defunct by capitalism and other disasters. But Johnson’s processing techniques aren’t one-to-one recreations of a pedal steel played in various rooms. They’re impossible to untangle from other effects, from the notes themselves, and from another treatment designed to simulate the “reverberation of a redwood forest.” The Cinder Grove embeds sense memories, walls and trees enduring in intangible anonymity.

These five elongated pieces feel more mournful than Johnson’s other pedal-steel work, though they rarely stray from a sublime sense of calm. “Red Branch Bell” is the most elegiac, with cello, violin, and viola parts bringing a somber complement to Johnson’s steel-and-synth foundation. The long, slow notes feel as though each is helping draw out the next. When the track fractures around its halfway point, quiet electronic feedback connects with mildly dissonant layers that lie together like hazy memories. But “The Laurel,” which lifts upward with the ease of clouds clearing from the sky, offers relief.

Playing to the pedal steel’s strengths of subtlety, The Cinder Grove’s mood slides toward grief without any hard signaling. The restorative serenity of Balsams may have transmitted a sense that “everything’s going to be alright,” but The Cinder Grove acknowledges that sometimes it isn’t. Losing a creative space isn’t simply losing a set of walls and floor, it’s the collapse of an entire little universe. On the way to “Red Branch Bell,” Johnson wanders through soundscapes that explore voids without over-emphasizing their darkness. Sadness feels almost effervescent as “Constellation” floats by with cosmic dreaminess, while silvery ripples balance with lower drifts on “Seritony.” The modulating notes that open “Raz-de-Marée” are the record’s only demanding tones, sweeping like a lighthouse beam through the fog before slipping into full pedal-steel cascades.

Though loss is The Cinder Grove’s central theme, the album carries with it a tacit reminder that devastation doesn’t always mean total destruction. The worst fires reduce everything to ash. But cinders aren’t quite so far gone: Something combustible is left behind. They’re the smallest surviving pieces, unlikely fragments of hope. Like a pedal steel ringing out another clear, sterling note, they offer the promise of redemption.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Chuck Johnson - The Cinder Grove Music Album Reviews Chuck Johnson - The Cinder Grove Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on February 17, 2021 Rating: 5


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