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The Michael Johnson Album Reviews

July 1, 1978

This debut effort by singer/songwriter/guitarist Johnson lives up to the expectations of the earlier released single "Bluer Than Blue". Johnson has a soulful, mellow voice and interprets a mix of ballads and uptempo tunes with feeling and gusto. Most of the material is well written, love-oriented tunes and are well married to Johnson's style. Although recorded in Nashville, the solid background players generate a solid pop feel with guitars, keyboards, horns, percussion, drums and strings.

Best cuts: "Bluer Than Blue", "Almost Like Being In Love", "Sailing Without A Sail", "Two In Love", "Gypsy Woman".

July 1, 1978

Slower tempo songs are often drowned in strings or mishandled vocally, but Michael Johnson appears to have mastered the style. His LP is full of touching ballads with all the right production touches, subtle instrumentation and poignant vocals necessary to keep the tenderness from becoming insipid. Featuring the hit single "Bluer Than Blue", this LP is sensual and romantic, a kind of cross between Michael Franks and Paul McCartney that should receive across-the-board airplay.

Skyway News - Minneapolis MN
July 4, 1978
By Steve Kaufman

Looks like another local boy is about to make good. "Bluer Than Blue", a single from Michael Johnson's recently-released album on EMI America, is getting airplay on stations in major markets and it looks very much like a hit.

I've heard Johnson in concert, and I've been aware of his previous recordings since I moved back here a few years ago. He's enjoyed a strong local following, but he hadn't made that leap to national fame and fortune.

Michael Johnson deserves success. He is a tasteful and intelligent interpreter, he has a clear, intimate voice and he's an excellent guitarist. One of the failings of his new album (called, logically enough The Michael Johnson Album) is that it doesn't convey his talent as an instrumentalist.

The album was produced in Nashville by Steve Gibson and Brent Maher. Some might say "overproduced." A string section, horn section, moog synthesizer, organ, orgatron, background vocals, additional percussion and vibraphone have all found their way onto various tracks--along with piano bass and drums. There is even sound-effect wind blowing on one cut. While none of this is undesirable in itself, it gives the recording a slicker feel than Johnson puts out in person, or on earlier albums.

Several tunes cut through this smooth surface. Then there are some which, in their blandness, do nothing to disturb the listener. Unless you've been walking around wearing earplugs the past few weeks, you've heard "Bluer Than Blue" (by Randy Goodrum), but for my money the most striking song on the disc is Johnson's version of Lerner and Loewe's "Almost Like Being In Love" as arranged by Bergen White. Except for the bridge, the tune has been transposed into a minor key, casting dark, ironic light on the upbeat lyrics.

Compare this with Mark Henley's "Two In Love" which, with its cutsie-pie, punning title and lyrics to match, may score with the Donny & Marie set, but which doesn't do much for this jaded listener.

I don't mean to say that I'm cynical as regards affairs of the heart. Like most of Johnson's work to date, the tunes on this album are, without exception, love songs. But some have a lot more punch than others. The first cut on side one, for instance, "Sailing Without a Sail" (by Bill LaBounty and R. Freeland) has a certain musical urgency and a set of evocative, double-entendre lyrics. And, though its lyrics don't exactly cut deep, there's an infectious joie de vivre in the Bill LaBounty-Michael Johnson collaboration, "Dancin' Tonight": "She takes you someplace where the blues don't last/And colors change beneath the floor/She tells the band to play her something fast/She's holding out her hand/Don't blow your only chance to take her."

Crow Johnson's "Ridin' in the Sky" is an attractive, ethereal piece pegged on the very contemporary metaphor of hang-gliding. It's one of the most successful cuts on the recording, hokey wind-effects notwithstanding. I like the Johnson rendition of Curtis Mayfield's "Gypsy Woman", and I'll even go with the Eric Kaz-Tom Snow tune, "When You Come Home", with both its feet firmly planted in sentimentality. But I draw the line at "25 Words or Less" (LaBounty-Freeland) with its opening lyric: "I like Springtime flowers/that grow along the lane/I like sunshine flowers and/walkin' in the rain."

Reservations and qualifications aside, it's a likeable album, and I hope it brings Michael Johnson the wider recognition he deserves.

Minneapolis Sun
July 14, 1978

ohnson's newest album shows selling out can be fun

Not too long ago, Michael Johnson, the local favorite singer guitarist, signed his third national contract. For a short time he was with Epic, then Atlantic. This time with a lot of promotional hoopla, he's signed with EMI America--one of the largest producers of records in the world.

Going national means many changes for Johnson, according to his recent album release, The Michael Johnson Album. If one doesn't know by now, this album features his first big hit, "Bluer Than Blue"--that Barry Manilowish ballad written by Randy Goodrum which is saturating the top 40 airwaves these days.

The album contains many songs with the slick production values of this hit. For some reason though, this Nashville recording doesn't sacrifice Johnson's vocal talents in pursuit of production hooks.

Johnson made his mark in the Twin Cities as an excellent guitarist as well as a singer. Then and now, he would rather bring new life into someone else's material instead of write his own songs. One finds it amazing that he doesn't actually play on the album except for two cuts. This is a big change.

Of course he sings all the cuts, utilizing the best of Nashville's studio greats to back up his voice. Johnson used to be known for his intimate approach to his albums and performances. This album fetches for that intimacy through a varied style of commercial sounds.

There's some light disco, a little bit of jazz-funk, a little bit of swing, a few more ballads like "Bluer Than Blue". There are even a couple of re-makes -- Curtis Mayfield's "Gypsy Woman" and Lerner & Loewe's standard, "Almost Like Being In Love". These two songs have a James Taylor approach to them which is quite laid back yet satisfying.

Johnson also does a song by his cohort Mark Henley called "Two In Love". The production of this number is more attuned to his former recorded style. However, the majority of the album shows him to have a new musical face -- a heavily produced one.

Selling out can be fun, it seems for a musician who probably has paid his dues for lonely mad artists long enough. The guy deserves a hit. He's got it. The album should ride that crest rather nicely. In comparison to other new national artists of this genre -- Dan Hill, England Dan & John Ford Coley, Johnson hasn't let the producers try to push him off the record, so to speak. His identity is secure, and the album is very good, as well.

All he needs now is another of the songs from the album to break into the top 40, and he'll probably get more creative clout next time.

October 11, 1978
by Gregg F. Nelson

So far this album has shipped over a million copies and it's still selling. It's one of those lps that everyone knows the hits contained therein, but when it comes to who sang them--who knows. "Bluer Than Blue" held a top ten position and being that the material is all easy listening, there are touches of Seals & Crofts and unique jazz flavors (ie, "Almost Like Being In Love"). In my opinion though the best cut is Curtis Mayfield's "Gypsy Woman". Overall The Michael Johnson Album is an example of really good listening and it has been a long time since I've enjoyed a record in this vein.

Rumour has it that Michael will be in town at the Other End in mid-September for a one-man show. I'm glad to see that this easy and calming music is back in the airwaves and high on the charts. Maybe it is a sign of the times.

Gentlemen's Quarterly
October 1978
by Rick Mitz

Several months ago, Michael Johnson had a hit song called "Bluer Than Blue". The LP it belongs to, the appropriately entitled Michael Johnson Album (EMI America), is simply wonderful. The highlight is a hauntingly downbeat rendition of Lerner and Loewe's "Almost Like Being In Love". This Minnesota-bred performer has finally made it after years of working in coffee houses and on local labels. He's not a writer, but a singer, and his new LP is so mellow, rich and melodic, it could give Easy Listening a good name.

October 1978

Whether he's moving through the lighthearted love song "25 Words or Less", sighing over a girl gone away in "Bluer Than Blue", or being joyful in "Almost Like Being In Love", Michael Johnson manages to sketch his self-portrait in ballads written by other composers--no mean feat. His warm vocals are surely placed and clear, and he's backed by smooth band arrangements, embellished by a swirl of the saxophone, a fleeting ripple of jazz on the piano, a flourish on the guitar. Johnson's had several albums over the past few years; after hearing this one, you'll want to look the others up.

Stereo Review
November 1978

Performance: Quietly excellent
Recording: Very Good
Here's a really happy surprise. Michael Johnson plays superb guitar and sings with a kind of lazy, forthright intimacy that involves the listener immediately. How very good he is on guitar can be heard on "Gypsy Woman", in which he uses the instrument as another voice, commenting on his own singing. How good he is vocally (and in familiar, demanding material) can be heard in his version of "Almost Like Being In Love": he takes Frederick Loewe's melodic Viennese breeze across and through the Scottish heather of Alan Jay Lerner's lyrics and comes up with something uniquely his own. "Bluer Than Blue" has already been a chart hit for him, and it's easy to hear why--he has class and charm in any song. You may not be sandbagged by the quiet excellence of Johnson's work, but I'll bet you won't stop listening to him over the whole ten bands of this album.

Reviews of the singles from THE MICHAEL JOHNSON ALBUM:

Bluer Than Blue
April 15, 1978

This first single on the EMI America label is a moving ballad about trying to justify the loss of a lover. Johnson's voice has a believable emotional edge. The arrangement of piano, strings and guitar is simple and to the point. Strong pop and MOR add.

Almost Like Being In Love
August 5, 1978

"Bluer Than Blue" was a Top 10 record for Johnson (and new EMI label) and this second single from The Michael Johnson Album has an interesting slow embellished beat which merits pop attention. Percussion touches, electric piano, strings, impressive singing and an elegant sax solo combine in a shimmering arrangement.

When You Come Home
December 9, 1978

The Michael Johnson Album is a fine Sunday album -- melodic, comfortable and spirited. This track from the album has been re-worked with guitar parts added, the drums augmented and the vocal re-touched. The result is a gentle and soothing ballad about love. Strings, sax solo, piano and fine upward movement make this a good Top 40/AC add.

Sailing Without A Sail
January 13, 1979

The Michael Johnson Album is without a doubt one of the finest releases of the year gone by. After spawning several hits, EMI is releasing this melodic and beautiful ballad. An impactful, smooth-rolling chorus and an elegant arrangement of guitars and keyboards make this a Top 20 candidate. The singing is of unusual quality.

Amazon.com customer reviews

Matthew Archuleta from Denver, CO
***** out of 5 stars
May 17, 2001
Expensive in price-It's Worth it, it's Nice!
A Seattle type of day dark skies, rain soon to come, a hot mug of coffee and this excellent Michael Johnsons's CD on the platter....

Michael Johnson released an acoustic mini-masterpiece with the second offering of this double-CD release. "The Michael Johnson Album". This album is one of my all-time favorites. It is not well known until you put it on at a party to mellow out the mood. Listeners will ask, "Who is this? Where did this guy go to? I remember this!"

"When You Come Home", "Sailing Without A Sail", "Ridin' In the Sky", "25 Words or Less" are the outstanding tunes that herald this CD. Sung with a passion and an understanding of the sublime lyrical content, detected by the listener. You will find yourself looking for (and reciting along with Michael), the printed lyric sheet (included) as you listen. The songwriting and the production give this album a great 'feel' that is perfect for days as this.

An expensive release--I waited for twenty-plus years for someone to release this CD--I am thankful it was accomplished.

A music fan from Bel Air, MD
***** out of 5 stars
February 15, 2002
What a treat!
I had the original Michael Johnson LP and am delighted with this Cd which has all 10 songs from that album as well as 10 I'd never heard. I found it in a strange way. I had to do a yearbook write up on my daughter in"25 words or less." I was sure I'd heard a song with that title. I typed it into a search engine on the internet and got the hit that it was a Michael Johnson song. I can't play my LP anymore since I don't have a working turntable. So when I found it here, I ordered it and have been listening to it ever since!

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