Ed Johnson: Over That Wave

Leading a tight ensemble through breezy, South American-derived arrangements, guitarist Ed Johnson provides appropriately spindly licks and silken chordings to Over That Wave (Cumulus), a mostly enjoyable recipe left somewhat undercooked in the vocal area. In a less-resonant strain of the Michael Franks-Kenny Rankin school of tenor, Johnson’s voice sometimes pushes or strains, particularly in the falsetto. While it works perfectly fine on sweet-swinging pieces like the easygoing samba “Lost in Leaving,” the smoothness goes away when pushed. More problematic are the background vocals and harmonies, which don’t reach a full blend when showcased on “A Certain Smile” and add a dated feel to the somewhat lethargic title ballad. That said, Johnson’s group hits the mark musically, from the lithe, walking Brazil-beat of “Freshet” to the jaunty, Venezuelan rhythmic celebration of “Toda Mi Vida.” Accomplished play, like John Reischman’s mandolin touches on “Toda Mi Vida” and Jovino Santos Neto’s beautiful piano work on “Lost in Leaving,” create vivid colors. In addition, particularly poetic lyrics on the sparkling “Freshet” and the unique glass-half-empty sentiment of “Lost in Leaving” echo the style of the band’s South American models.