"Painters and writers can sit home and wait for inspiration, but musicians always have to be on," explained performer Michael Johnson.
Johnson, a solo guitarist and singer was definitely "on" Wednesday night (October 3) when he performed for about 500 students at Norton Field House. He displayed his excellent talent, both on guitar and as a vocalist, within a framework of folk music, jazz and blues.
His guitar work shows the influence of the classical style. "Study in E Minor" displayed his mastery of classical technique. It was an instrumental piece on harmonics and showed why Johnson taught at the highly regarded Eastman school of Music in Rochester, N.Y. this last summer.
In his usual modesty, Johnson passes off his position as, "the token artist representing the acoustic musicians of the world."
Johnson's other syles also compliment his show. His jazz included, "Take Five", made famous by Dave Brubeck. His versatile guitar work made up the lack of a bass guitar, which his crucial to this number. The blues were basically of the white blues tradition, but they were sometimes melodramatic.
By far his main assets, as it is with most acoustic guitarists, were comical songs and romantic ballads. The attentive crowd really enjoyed, "The Wonderful World of Sex" and "Gonna Go Out and Find an Ugly Woman to Love" among others. Johnson's punchlines and anecdotes revealed to the audience a warm and gentle friend.
Johnson aims to communicate on a personal basis. In an interview before the concert Johnson said he hoped his performance was "one to one."
He discloses this through his music, a superb blend of lyrics and melody. It is true that few of the songs he performs are his own. But as he explained, "It's more important to do better songs." They express him better than any simple words could.
Highlights of his program included "My Opening Farewell" by Jackson Browne and "Love Can Get You Through Times of No Sex Better Than Sex Can Get You Through Times of No Love."
"Rooty Toot Toot for the Moon" and "There is a Breeze", earned him an encore from an appreciative audience. The latter was written by Mark Henley, Johnson's neighbor. It is also the title song from Johnson's first album on Atco/Atlantic Records.
Most of the songs were improved in the concert setting, but one in particular, "Old Folks" by Jacques Brel, seemed to reach an emotional level that is beyond the album version.
This writer's personal favorite on the album, "I Got You Covered" by Biff Rose (prologue and epilogue by Johnson) was less than the album version. But the prologue line, "It's time to tell the homeless to go home," will stay with me for a long time.
Johnson credits his motivation to several sources, among them, Bud and Travis, Judy Collins and Jacques Brel. His career has seen Andrew Segovia's conservatory, John Denver and the Mitchell Trio, Randy Spark's Back Porch Majority and the off-Broadway musical, "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris."