This mammoth, 2CD retrospective is the first in a proposed 3-volume series of the mostly solo recordings of Sun Zoom Spark/Black Sun Ensemble guitarist, Eric Johnson, who recorded 17 full-length cassettes worth of material under the Universal moniker. Johnson recorded these selections from his first five releases at his parent?s house in Chicago in a recording space that was soon to develop into the Slowburn Studio. The set begins at the end, with selections from the 1989 release, ?Oceans.? ?The Path Forgotten? is an epic, 16-minute guitar workout which seamlessly weaves in and out of jam band sensibilities, as Johnson works a couple of tasty Garcia-like guitar runs into the song, meaning it will definitely appeal to Deadheads, past and present. A later version of the title track from 1988?s ?Drone? as recorded by Universal?s live counterpart, Isis Rising, featuring Young Arnold on bass and Brian Pott (great name, that one!) on drums is another mellow, occasionally Eastern-tinged psychedelic workout.
?10000 Miles? (from 1989?s ?Icy Lucifer,? the first album Johnson recorded on his new Tascam Porta Two four-track recorder) finds him moving into a new, visceral, garagey, explosive direction. It?s a snarly scorcher in the Detroit Rock City style of Stooges, Nugent, et. al. The first of four cassettes Johnson recorded in 1989, ?Sandstone? is represented by three tracks that find him dealing in a more folk/psych direction. I hear a lot of his future employer, Black Sun Ensemble in the meandering, psychedelic snake charmer, ?Salamander,? with Johnson?s guitar lines winding around your brain like a sidewinder coiled and poised and ready to strike in the hot, Arizona desert sun. The shortest track, the 3:00 ?October? may be the most enjoyable and accessible track on the admittedly ?out there? and experimental, ?Drone? and Johnson?s gentle guitar work here bears more than a passing resemblance to some of Neil Young?s folkier efforts. I think I even detect a slight whiff of the melody line from ?Hey Hey, My My? wafting through the breeze!
Johnson demonstrates his versatility as a musician for us by throwing a curve ball at us to end the first disk with ?Co-Serpentine Lines? from 1989?s ?Oceans.? This track delivers a jazzier flavor on what builds into a lengthy piano solo, with occasional flights of fantasy into vaudevillian directions, with forays into barrelhouse stomping and segments halfway through the track that have a fey classical air.
Johnson opens the second disk with the blistering garage fuzz of ?Egyptian Queen? from Universal?s 1987 debut, ?Blind Child And The Garden? concept album around the themes of birth and death. Some heavy, bluesy guitar runs make this a sweaty, whiskey-soaked winner. The same project also gives us the raga rock of ?The Seed,? another Eastern-flavored track that will appeal to fans of the Electric Psychedelic Sitar Headswirlers compilation series. ?Storms Rise? boasts more heady, electric stringbending, while ?Osiris,? the third selection from ?Sandstone? visits the same psychedelic experimental jam stylings as the aforementioned ?Salamander,? making it another that will surely please Black Sun fans. The title track from ?Icy Lucifer? is another psychedelic onslaught, reminiscent of Hawkwind in full regalia, or more recently, the flamboyant stylings of the Wizards from Walthamstow, Nick (Bevis Frond) Saloman and Gary (Sun Dial) Ramon. The trip concludes with the epic, sidelong equivalent (nineteen minute), ?Easy Journey To Other Planets,? which also originally appeared on ?Oceans.? Mixing elements by everyone from psychedelic, krautrock head explorers like Tangerine Dream through to the otherworldly, bleak psychedelia of vintage Pink Floyd, up to today?s finest (head)space cadets like Spacious Minds, this is a journey that I?ll want to take again and again and is a fitting conclusion to this wonderful compilation of Universal?s early efforts that no fan of psychedelic home recordings will want to be without. And the best part may be that we have two more volumes waiting eagerly in the wings! 7/10 -- Jeff Penczak (31 October, 2007)