Chuck Johnson and his newest album, The Cinder Grove, were featured in the February 10, 2021 issue of the New York Times in a piece by Grayson Haver Currin.
Chuck Johnson’s Ode to What’s Been Lost in California’s Fires
His pedal steel album “The Cinder Grove” is a eulogy for landscapes that are still being razed, but holds on to hope for what comes next.
The Cinder Grove LP can be purchased here.
The guitarist Chuck Johnson had already tucked himself into bed at a German hostel when his partner, the multi-instrumentalist Marielle Jakobsons, called from California with news that could not wait until he returned from tour: She had finally found their rural wonderland. Jakobsons and Johnson had daydreamed for years of relocating into the woods with fellow Bay Area artists to start a modern commune — a sunny spot for gardening, an inviting studio for recording, a little grove for performing. “The quintessential California dream,” Jakobsons said recently by phone, laughing.
The place they found in November 2018 was perfect: a hundred miles north of Oakland, across the San Francisco Bay, with a picturesque A-frame and an avocado-colored cottage. But before they could close, they discovered a daunting contingency: The nearby forests were so susceptible to California’s metastasizing wildfires they couldn’t insure the property. In 2020, just a year after they let the dream go, fire nearly jumped the property line. “It’s still hard to process how much was lost this last fire season, but it gave us clarity that we’re not willing to risk everything,” Johnson said from the small east Oakland home Jakobsons bought in 2012. “We were so close to making this huge life change. That’s a loss we grieved.” That bittersweet sense of knowing paradise only long enough to lose it permeates “The Cinder Grove,” Johnson’s second album for pedal steel guitar, released last week. Its five absorbing pieces not only contemplate the spate of intensifying natural disasters but also the rising costs the musicians say are pushing their peers out of Oakland. A eulogy for landscapes that are still being razed, “The Cinder Grove” and its luxuriant tones hold fast to hope for what comes next. (Read the whole article here.)