"'Disconnected,' for example, most strongly recalls Steely Danís plush vocal harmonies and airy altered chords. But thereís a church-full more gospel and grease in his self-made chorus of vocals than Becker and Fagan could ever hire at triple-scale, let alone the badass blues inflections of his slippery strat that frankly, leaves the Dan's army of guitar sessioneers in the dust.
For a more direct Jimi reference, check the title track, the eleven-minute psychedelic closer, 'revolutionmumbojumbo,' or 'Children of the Sonic Soul.' The latter is a sprawling six minutes featuring lyrics of allegiance to a cosmic alliance over a sonic solar system of his own creation, pierced with laser-like, frizzle-fried, fluent improvisations. How is this the same guy who follows with a pristine two-minute pop song containing rhyming couplets drenched in existentialist philosophy?
The crystalline snap-and-pop chicken-pickiní solo that follows is every bit as compactly erudite as the lyric.
While Jef Lee Johnson may not yet enjoy broad-based recognition, his willingness to share his most personal and painful experiences should go a long way to getting him there. He humorously summarizes the yin and yang of existence...
This analogy could be applied to his musically split personas as well. The thing is, all of them are amazing."
- All About Jazz.com
"Some folks you'd pay just to hear them rummage through the pop and jazz heap. Philadelphia-based guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Jef Lee Johnson always seems to emerge with something worth hearing.
His fourth Dreambox CD picks away at the grainy colors in funk. It's full of quivering chords, ramrod beats, and bluesy grooves...The entire set seems to play out in a broiling setting where the heat makes the road ahead wavy. Johnson plays like a man with a wah-wah pedal on his car's accelerator.
He is what the music used to be: unpredictable."
- Philadelphia Inquirer
"'Things Are Things' shows that lack of recognition has not soured Johnson's honeyed, 'kiss the sky' lyricism, or his way of placing candies and flowers on the edge of a crater of anguish and hurt. He covers Donovan's 'Mellow Yellow,' but precedes it with an 11 minute instrumental that manages to combine nasty, growling bass and bravura guitar soloing without once invoking the prissy, petit bourgeois smarts of fusion...
The appropriately crazy harmonies of 'Sci-FI Girl' and the bop of 'New Ways To Say Nothing' show that Johnson has forgotten none of his lessons in harmolodics, but maybe it's the impression that he could sing all these songs sitting on your sofa with an acoustic which makes the bravura production tricks - metal power chords, shuffling lo-fi beats, Byrds 12-string - so welcome. I used to say Johnson's records recalled 'The Last Record Album;' now hearing Little Feat makes me think of Jef Lee."
- The WIRE
"...this is really a superior offering. Johnson('s) songs are spare and evocative with poetically elusive hooks. The guitarist...undergirds each with a telling rhythmic groove, drawing everything from soul to Delta blues...This certainly makes my pop playlist."
"...Johnson's into making ironic statements, such as his high-stepping take of 'For Pete's Sake,' a ditty by Monkees' bassist/guitarist Peter Tork that Johnson endows with genuine sass. He sounds like a futuristic Delta bluesman on the title track. His guitar wavers like an Indian sitar on 'promise of lovevolution' while 'ism ism' burns with a rock flame and some sizzling lyrics.
...most of it is personal and entertaining. This CD is full of sweet grooves and gritty moments of jazz, rock, funk and hip-hop blended into Johnson's singular sound."
- Philadelphia Inquirer
"...put aside all the debates about labels placed on the music, the current state of the business, and what constitutes our 'pop' music of the day and what have we got here- a platter that simply has got to extend the reach of Jef Lee's gospel, build his audience and gain him recognition from the music 'establishment' he seems to disdain. Yes, to someone like me who's been listening all along or to anyone who's keeping an eye on the scene - this is the one people. And whether Jef himself believes it or not - it's an artistic statement alright.
On 'Peace and Love Forever,' Jef testifies as only a man who was a boy who grew up in the church could. The permutations and self-made backing vocals of the repeated refrain of 'Someone said it's dark and cloudy. I say there's sun is behind the rain.' imbues it with the weight and joy of a prophet. The effortless slipping, sliding and popping of the guitar solo reminds me , like many of the guitar statements on the disc, of those 'perfect' takes on the vintage Steely Dan recordings, both musically and sonically, with Jef single-handedly taking on each and every role of the triple-scale earning hired guns that Becker and Fagan ever dragged into the Record Plant or the Power Station. Did I say that Jef did all this at his home studio, and that he mixed and mastered it there, as well? Ears people. Say it with me now.
On the next cut he makes you feel whatever pain you want to ascribe to the phrase 'It's been so long since I've seen with my eyes, it's one thing to see there another to be there.' The backward, envelope filtered vocals provide the 'hook' to the maximum extent that any 2 minute song can have one, while the gutwrenching guitar-work gives a glimpse of whatever edge Jef has had the misfortune to look over to come to this realization.
'...where in the end of the world' finds him again coming out of the church with his blues and his acoustic strapped on low, recalling one Mr. Ben Harper's funky, swampy, gritty approach. When he chants, 'We all wanna be free-from something' over Katreese Barnes' gorgeous affirmations - well - we momentarily are.
'April Rain' is an instrumental commensurate with the remainder of the songcraft herein. Especially enjoyable are the sequences where Jef Lee makes the strings sound as of they are going to fall of the fretboard. It also drives home the challenge that lies before anyone looking for an artist that simply sings and plays this good. The equivalents that I know about anyway, can be found at the highest levels in the so-called business. Why not Mr. Johnson?
Looking for a gentle bluesy rocker with a Steely Dan-type horn section provided by Jef Lee on multiple saxes, with a pedal-steel solo rendered on a strat? Try 'Genovieve.' 'Waters of light' is like slightly polished Hendrixian psychedelia, sporting an expert counter-melodic bass line worthy of some of the Gamble and Huff-era studio masters that Jef actually played with as a young man in Philly. A longer, headtrip set of vocals on a lush bed of chromatically slid-into chord work sets the mood that'll have you reaching for your stash and your headphones. With filters on the drums and backward, popping Strat punctuations over cleanly strummed acoustic guitar, Jef Lee sings 'Dark of night, waters of light, set your rivers free,' and lets it flow into a so-reverb-drenched -it -sounds-submerged lead. Where's the other multi-instrumentalist that could track this in his living room? Please!
But the most affecting tune of the set, at least for me, is the disc's somber centerpiece, the haunting, roots and tears drenched 'St. Somebody,' with it's a stripped down, low-tech and huge drum machine pocket. When Jef sings 'I can feel your pain. There must be someplace for you to heal. There must be a Saint Somebody. I just can't explain,' it hits deep. At the risk of sounding obvious, the naked, exposed nature of the sentiment and the music that surrounds, or doesn't surround it, makes you know that somehow - he does feel it. That notion, coupled with knowing that on a deep, personal level, the pain of what he has recently had to endure might be so great as to reach beyond that of the individual and encompass some part of all of ours together - that commonality of feeling and spirit is found precisely at the crux of the definition of just what it is that makes art, after all.
Regardless of whether it garners Jef a Grammy nomination or anything remotely resembling what he deserves - it's one magnificent joint. The photo on the cover, which lends some imagery to the concept of the title song and the album, was even taken by Jef. Let me leave you with this thought. I recently received a bit of journalistic advice reminding me to make sure to review with a 'critical ear' and at least help listeners and readers take note of specific faults or weaknesses. It concluded in a nice piece of reverse logic by noting that a recording without flaws is a masterpiece and that masterpieces are few and far between, as is common knowledge. Please assume, for the purpose of this review anyway, that I wholeheartedly believe every word of that advice. Now, read this again."
- All About Jazz.com
Download individual tunes or entire CDs in MP3 format!
"(T)he dizzyingly talented Jef Lee Johnson plays everything - besides virtuoso guitar abilities and great power-soul vocals, he plays sax, bass, keyboards and more. Johnson uses these skills for creative, but pointed, swampy funk purposes on the epic, two-disc release 'Hype Factory.' As a vocalist, Johnson comes across as a more jaded (or sometimes smart-aleck) Stevie Wonder, matching his cool but ultimately optimistic lyrics...As a guitarist, he's got all the bases covered - from bluesy acoustic and sweet jazz chordings to offbeat countrified licks. These considerable abilities and unique songwriting outlook make Johnson, the artist, a true original."
"...(A) unique session that draws sustenace from jazz, rock and funk.
The Philly-based Johnson, whose collaborators have ranged from singer Rachelle Ferrell and saxophonist James Carter to avant-garde funkster Ronald Shannon Jackson and pop star Billy Joel, is a rare cat for whom labels are mere approximations for the literal-minded...This CD vaults from industrial-strength funk to spine-tingling blues-rock, from bass-heavy grooves to shapely melodies that persist in the mind after the party ends."
- Philadelphia Inquirer