Michael Johnson Photo

The Very Best of Michael Johnson: Bluer Than Blue Reviews

Hotwax, St. Paul Pioneer Press
By Rick Shefchik
February 28, 1999

The Very Best of Michael Johnson: Bluer Than Blue (1978-1995)
Razor & Tie
Rating: ***

This 17-song collection is not as complete as one might have hoped; before breaking into the big-time with "Bluer Than Blue" in 1978, Johnson recorded three excellent but low-selling albums that established him as a favorite balladeer in the Twin Cities area. This disc skips over that work for his major-label pop and Nashville recordings.

While not a complete career overview, "Bluer Than Blue" is one of the most thematically and stylistically cohesive best-ofs you're likely to find. Johnson's distinctive tenor hasn't changed at all in a quarter-century, nor has his ability to find and interpret winning love songs. He has championed the romantic, expressive writing of Randy Goodrum ("Bluer Than Blue"), Bill LaBounty ("This Night Won't Last Forever") and Hugh Prestwood ("The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder"), establishing their work as the epitome of smart, sentimental ballad-writing in the past two decades.

Even when Johnson made a career move to Nashville in the early '80s, his style really didn't change much. Working with producer Brent Maher, who also made records for the Judds, Johnson reeled off a string of country hits that never stooped to typical cowboy cliches. Even as recently as 1995, his version of Prestwood's "Almost Free" tied adult emotions of ambivalence, longing and regret to a beautifully haunting memory.

A collection this solid and consistent suggests that we have not heard the last of Michael Johnson's deeply satisfying recordings.

By Michael Killen
March 15, 1999

Michael Johnson
The Very Best of Michael Johnson: Bluer Than Blue (1978-1995)
(Razor & Tie)

Michael Johnson parlayed a successful career as a pop singer in the late 1970s into a successful stint as a chart topping country singer in the 1980s. This 17-song collection covers both phases of his career, with all of his best pop and country recordings presented together in this comprehensive package.

Anyone listening to the radio in 1978 could hardly have missed Johnson's first pop hit "Bluer Than Blue". That song solidly launched his career, and led to a string of similar hits that included a remake of the Lerner and Loewe classic "Almost Like Being in Love", and the original version of a song Sawyer Brown covered awhile back, "This Night Won't Last Forever".

By the early 1980s, the pop hits dried up and Johnson set his sights on Nashville. In 1985, he recorded a duet with Sylvia and hit the country Top 10 with "I Love You By Heart". That success began a string of hits that included the No. 1 songs "The Moon is Still Over Her Shoulder" and "Give Me Wings". He also charted with "That's That" and "I Will Whisper Your Name", all included here. All of these original recordings still sound fresh with Johnson's personable singing style perfectly suited to the acoustic direction country was taking by mid-decade.

The disc also contains three post '80s sides that shine equally as well as the hits. 1992's "It Must Be You" is a fine duet with Juice Newton, and "One Honest Tear" finds the singer in top form on a song that should have scored. The disc is capped off with a 1995 recording of writer Hugh Prestwood's beautiful "Almost Free". Prestwood and Johnson represent such a great pairing, one wishes for an entire disc of Johnson singing Prestwood.

Michael Johnson may not be a household name in today's country music, but these original recordings prove his vocal skills and warmth were welcomed as he carefully made the crossover from pop to country over a decade ago. This album clearly brings his contribution to country clearly in focus.

All-Music Guide
By Stephen Thomas Erlewine
April 1999

Michael Johnson's The Very Best of Michael Johnson: Bluer Than Blue
During the late '70s, soft-rock and country-pop struck up a friendship and soon the lines separating the two genres were blurred beyond recognition. Glen Campbell was at the forefront of the movement, but few epitomize the entire genre like Michael Johnson, a former folkie that moved into soft-rock as the '70s drew to a close. He had two big soft-rock hits -- "Bluer Than Blue" and "This Night Won't Last Forever" -- before the decade finished, and as the '80s progressed, he slowly moved from the adult contemporary charts to the country listings without ever really changing his sound, as Razor & Tie's definitive compilation Bluer Than Blue (1978-1995) proves. There's really no difference in sound or style on any of these 17 songs; they all sound like variations on the same mellow vibe. Occasionally, the pop, folk or country elements are emphasized, but Johnson's work retained a remarkably consistent tone over the course of 17 years. That's not to say that it's always interesting -- part of the problem with soft-rock is that it's hard to say why certain songs work and others don't, since they all share a similar aesthetic. Johnson was rarely adventurous but he could deliver the goods, even though listeners with a passing interest in the songwriter may find the material a little monotonous. That said, "Bluer Than Blue" does an excellent job of rounding up highlights from a career that was consistent in style but not in quality. Pop fans will be roped in by his two earliest hits, plus "Almost Like Being in Love", while country fans will use "Give Me Wings" and "The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder" as their entrance, but chances are both camps will find the entire disc satisfying. Providing they were fans already, of course, since this music could sound quite dated to listeners unfamiliar with Johnson.

Queens Chronicle
By Lloyd Carroll
May 13, 1999

Michael Johnson
The Very Best Of (Razor & Tie)
Then & Now (Intersound)
Michael Johnson has long been one of the record business's best kept secrets even though he has been making records for over 20 years. Johnson has a relaxed mellifluous voice in the vein of James Taylor, Kenny Rankin and Michael Franks. In the late 1970s Johnson was able to dent the adult contemporary charts with hits as "This Night Won't Last Forever", "You Can Call Me Blue", and a cover of the Lerner & Loewe of "Almost Like Being In Love" from the Broadway classic, "Brigadoon."

His biggest career hit was 1978's "Bluer Than Blue", a song about a guy whose girlfriend has left him. Johnson tries to show the bright side which comes with a breakup, namely the freedom to do almost anything that you want but he ultimately comes to the inevitable conclusion that his life will be "bluer than blue" without his ex. Razor & Tie's The Very Best Of Michael Johnson showcases these songs, and a number of his country hits, all of which make their way overdue first appearance on a CD.

Intersound's Then & Now consists primarily of Johnson's re-recording of past hits. That may not sound very appetizing but that album is far more than a cheesy knockoff of earlier better work. Michael Johnson is not only a fine vocalist but he is also a student of classical guitar. Then & Now allows Johnson to play his hits on acoustic guitar without needless syrupy orchestration. The result is a very intimate listening experience. Listeners get a bonus when guest Alison Krauss duets with him on the old Kenny Loggins-Stevie Nicks' hit, "Whenever I Call You Friend". I always found the 1980 Loggins-Nicks hit annoyingly bombastic. Johnson & Krauss must have felt the same way since their unhurried gentle version gets the song right.

Listening to both of these albums makes me wonder why Johnson has maintained such a low profile in recent years. There are too many lesser talents dominating the airwaves these days.

By Jason Pascal
Editorial Reviews

The second Michael Johnson retrospective (the first was issued by RCA in 1990) includes not only his country-leaning work for RCA, but his late-1970s pop recordings for EMI and 1990s tracks as well. As is common with "best of" compilations, the more recent works toward the end of the record are not technically "hits," as they never charted. Johnson has never been easy to classify, but Adult Contemporary is probably the best bet, and fans of the local lite FM station are probably familiar with "Bluer Than Blue" and "This Night Won't Last Forever". This will be a generally pleasing compilation to Johnson fans, but the classic "Life's a Bitch (And Then You Die)" is sorely missed. --Jason Pascal

Amazon.com customer reviews

mlee22@levi.com from Atlanta, Ga.
*** out of 5 stars
March 11, 1999
Longing for all the songs from the Michael Johnson album
We used to sit on the back patio in Plantation, Fl. listening to the mellow, jazzy dreamy cuts on the old vinyl watching the sun set over the glades. The new Best Of helps somewhat in recovering those songs but still the later country influence is an intrusion. Would really liked to have found his "Sailing Without Any Sails" (a line from the song, not necessarily the title) on this or any other "CD". Michael Johnson was included in our regular rotation of Michael Franks, Spira Gyra etc.. Come on Michael...you've got it in you!

A music fan from Newport, Michigan
***** out of 5 stars
March 19, 1999
The pace & style of Michael during this era are pleasing to the ear. My 2 favorite songs are still missing "25 words or less" & "sailing w/o sails". This is the Michael I remember when I was courting the wife. Brings back only pleasant memories.

A music fan from Indiana
**** out of 5 stars
April 19, 1999
This is too weird...
After I took a look at the songs on the CD, I thought to myself, "Dang ! It's soooo close." It's missing Sailing Without any "Sails" and "25 Words or Less" from the Michael Johnson Album. Then, I look at the reviews section and find very similar comments from a couple of other reviewers. Glad to see I'm not the only one who would like a shot at a CD version of that great album. If it's not on Amazon, I'm not sure there's much hope in finding it anywhere :-(

from Mpls.MN
* out of 5 stars
July 8, 1999
Used to listen to Michael here in the Twin Cities at some of the local clubs when I was attending the U.of M.in the late 60's and early 70's. Sadly, all my old tapes and records are shot. Wish I could get a c.d. of the original "B than B", and For All You Mad Musicians.Still attend his concerts at Northrup at the U. Any one have access to any of his old stuff?

from Somewhere in the Heart of North Carolina
**** out of 5 stars
August 11, 1999
Anyone who ever had the great fortune of hearing Michael Johnson in concert (as I did in February 1992, University of South Dakota) knows that Michael Johnson is one of the most gifted guitarists of all time. This is a MUST HAVE for anyone who ever saw him in concert, or loved "Bluer Than Blue" and "Almost Like Being in Love". But NO Michael Johnson "Best of" CD would ever be complete without "Damn It All" or "Sailing Without a Sail", and I for one would pay well to find an MJ that was REALLY complete!

A music fan from Cincinnati, Ohio
**** out of 5 stars
September 7, 1999
Michael has done better - but even his best is still good.
I enjoy anything Michael does. The first time I heard him sing "Magic Time", I got cold chills - and have been hooked on Michael ever since. When he sings "Ponies" I can feel the 'shudder of the understanding skin'. Would love to be able to get my hands on some of his older stuff!

The Old Paper Boy from Des Moines, IA
**** out of 5 stars
September 16, 1999
Just buying now
I'm glad to find any MJ. I used to be the paperboy in his neighborhood in Minnetonka, MN. His dogs Albert (the Golden) and O.B. Glad (the Springer) used to be my loyal companions on the early morning route. I too miss the earliest stuff. I would love to find "Sailing Without a Sail", "25-words or Less", and "O.B. Glad" Your Alive, I suppose that's where the Springer's name came from.

Michael H. Brandau from NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE
***** out of 5 stars
March 22, 2000
A Dynamic Retrospective Carrying "Most" of MJBluer's "Hits"
I first discovered Michael Johnson's particular sound; a mix of classical/blues/folk & jazz with a tinge of country when I was a teenager in southern Louisiana. His "soulful" delivery on "blending" the romantic ballad meets the wistful sigh of past loves on such classics as "One Honest Tear"/ "I Will Whisper Your Name"/ "Give Me Wings" and "Bluer Than Blue" tugs at the heart with the lyrics identifying a broken heart. You cannot go wrong with this artist, every song he sings will Grab You in one way or another; and your outlook on your life will change in some way. My personal favorite song on this album & the video version from its' 1988 release is: "That's That". I will finally get to see him "LIVE" and "experience" his "virtuosity" as a consummate guitarist/singer April 2000 in Nashville, Tennessee and as you folks who "have" seen him in Live Performance already know; "This Night Won't Last Forever"! Michael Johnson - 'simply' sings songs the way they were written: "From The Heart"!

Christian Kuschel from Schwabach, Germany
***** out of 5 stars
January 3, 2001
A Wonderful Collection
Having not been too familiar with most of Michael Johnson's work beyond "Bluer Than Blue", I'm glad I discovered and bought this collection of really outstanding tunes.

What a shame that he never got the enduring record label support this music deserves. Melodic ballads, touching lyrics, great vocals... "Wings" is one of the best recordings I've ever listened to!

The only thing that surprised me was how little original (i.e. self-penned) material this collection contains. I'd always thought of MJ as a writer - but his singing makes up for that. I will certainly try to get my hands on more of his earlier releases.

A music fan from Corning, NY USA
**** out of 5 stars
April 22, 2001
Another fan weighing in: It's almost complete ...
I agree with the fan from Indiana and some of the others about this CD.

Michael Johnson is one of my all-time favorite artists. I got introduced to him many years ago when I purchased the 'Michael Johnson' album, and was enchanted (and hooked). He is hard to classify in terms of the common music categories: not country, jazz, contemporary or blues, yet all of these things. Unfortunately, one must 'fit' one of the musical boxes to get a lot of exposure, and he probably hasn't gotten the airplay I think he deserves.

'The Very best of ... Bluer than Blue' could be described as an exceptional collection of representative work EXCEPT ... the CD is missing something. I'm in agreement with some of the other reviewers - where are 'Sailing without any Sails', '25 Words or Less', or 'When You Come Home'? You can add me to the list of people who would happily purchase an anthology issued with those tracks on it, or for the MJ album re-issue.

Paul Rasmussen from Jacksonville, FL
*** out of 5 stars
July 6, 2001
Get it to hear his early work
Johnson's country efforts hold no interest for me. But his rendition of "Almost Like Being In Love" is a must hear.

Cynthia S Harvey from Romeoville, IL
***** out of 5 stars
August 6, 2001
If ever there was a perfect song, "Give Me Wings" it! This song very eloquently speaks of the perfect love. Michael Johnson has the perfect voice for this song- you can understand every word- he sings as if he's speaking right to you- words cannot describe the majesty of this song. It is perfection.

The rest of the songs are proud companions- especially the hit "Bluer Than Blue". The songs are honest, the songs are fresh and the songs hit home.

I cannot really think of another singer quite like Mr. Johnson. His work is impeccable. This collection will brighten your day!

Next Album - Live At The Bluebird Cafe