You can’t accuse Chuck Johnson of doing the same thing over and over again. In the 22 years since his first release, a 7” split between his combo Spatula and another band called Evil Weiner, he’s played twangy and/or mathy instrumental rock, ethnographic forgeries, cooking show soundtracks, minimal electronics and acoustic Americana. He’s played electric, steel and acoustic guitars as well as analog synthesizers. And even when he sticks to the same track for a while, he switches things up.
Blood Moon Boulder is Johnson’s third record in an American Primitive vein. Like its predecessors, Crows In The Basilica and A Struggle Not A Thought, it evidences his appreciation for the style’s traditions, but it doesn’t reach back quite so far. Both of those albums had moments where the former North Carolina resident openly honored fellow Tar Heel Elizabeth Cotton; on “Silver Teeth In The Sun,” the second track on this six-song LP, takes its dynamics and bass line from the John Fahey playbook and obtains from them a similar atmosphere of apprehension. But he takes it in a different direction, adding the additional anxiety of speed; as the tune slows up and down, you don’t just feel the emotion of its atmosphere and implied narrative but the uncertainty of just where it’ll all go next and how fast.
Johnson also takes on the raga-influenced side of the genre, savoring voluptuous slide licks on the opener “Corvid Tactics” that bridge the gap between the Ganges and Mississippi deltas. Most likely he paid close attention to Jack Rose’s similar efforts; Johnson is an academic with a degree from Mills College and some classroom teaching time on his CV, so he knows the merits of research. But by merging American and Asian elements, he’s simultaneously connecting his recent practice with the work he used to do before the turn of the century in Idyll Swords.
The boundaries between Johnson’s multiple methodologies grow even more porous on “The Deer And The Snake,” another Indian-flavored piece that holds the center of side two. Overdubbed violin and electronics set up subliminal drones that hover like a heat haze, and then the music dissolves into a sea of undulating resonance smudges the line between Johnson’s solo work and the music of his electronics-and-voice duo, Blood Wedding. Something similar happens on the electrified closer, “Private Violence.” Johnson has spent a lot of time doing different things quite well; on Blood Moon Boulder, he displays equal facility at putting them together.