Minneapolis Tribune - Minneapolis, MN
November 27, 1977
by Tim Carr
Johnson's third album, recorded at Creation Sound Studios and produced by him, continues the musical direction of his previous Sanskrit album, For All You Mad Musicians. Poetic contemporary folk songs are intricately arranged and sung with a knowing style by Johnson's sweet suede tenor. Each song is delivered with careful attention to detail and nuance. Perhaps it doesn't capture the immediacy of Johnson's live performances, yet it is a fine hearth-side album.
Skyway News - Minneapolis, MN
January 10, 1978
by Steve Kaufman
There isn't much flash to a Michael Johnson album. Just good musicianship and the comfortable feeling that you're in the hands of a man of good taste.
The singer-guitarist, who makes his home here, has a new one out on Sanskrit called Ain't Dis Da Life, and it is very much in the same stream as his earlier albums. It's hard to know whether to call him a singer or a guitarist, he does both so well and they go so well together.
Johnson would be instantly identifiable in a blindfold test. Not because of his material, but because of his vocal and guitar style. He doesn't write his own stuff, but he's an interpreter of distinction. He has the ability to go to the heart of a song.
In style, Johnson ranges in his new album from a lighthearted, jazz-influenced bounce ("Circle of Fifths" by Raun MacKinnon) to something that sounds very much like a "folk song" about lost love ("Movin' in the Same Circles" by R. Galbraith). The title tune, by Mike Smith, is reminiscent of an early jazz stomp, complete with wailing clarinet provided by bassist Jim Johnson.
Then there are a few tunes that strike me as art songs in their careful construction and evocative lyrics. In this group I would include Al Day's "Time Sweet Time", on which Johnson is accompanied by the rich cello of the Minnesota Orchestra's Anthony Elliot. It's a song of loneliness and pain, but also of hope: "So if you're lonely/Step inside/I've got room for you/And all you hide." And there is the touching "Mr. Arthur's Place" by Thom Burke Bishop, in which a middle-aged couple revisits a hangout of their youth to dance and finally realize "You know exactly where you are/But you're not too sure where you've been."
These are very individual matters, but some songs on the album don't work as well for me. Among these is Ted Anderson's "Our Snowflake Dreams" whose lyrics are long on whimsey: "Our snowflake dreams/In a crystalline flurry and swirlin' they hurry/For day has already begun."
Then there are some delightful surprises like Mark Henley's "High On The Border" with its Caribbean beat and an almost symphonic steel drum solo by Robert Greenidge.
Johnson is backed on the album by the discerning bass of Jim Johnson, percussion of Gary Gauger and piano of Jeff Harrington (who also provides background vocals). Composer-arranger and reed player extrordinaire Dave Karr contributes some tasty flute and piccolo work on "Circle Of Fifths" as well as the string quartet arrangements on "Mr. Arthur's Place".
Ain't Dis Da Life grows on you. There's no flash, no glitter - just lots of good music.
The Daily Illini - Champaign, IL
February 1, 1978
by Greg Easterling
After listening to Michael Johnson's new solo album, Ain't Dis Da Life, it's hard to avoid comparisons between Johnson and another smooth voiced folkie picker by the name of Tom Rush. Both Johnson and Rush have preferred to interpret songs written by their contemporaries rather than write handfuls of tunes themselves.
Johnson's song contributers have last names like Henley, Smith, MacKinnon and Bishop. The songs include titles such as "Circle of Fifths", "Lucky Stars", "Chicken Road", and "Mr. Arthur's Place". Johnson demonstrates the ability to take these songs and make them his own by matching the original sensitivity of their lyrics with his sympathetic vocal-guitar treatment. As his own producer, Johnson takes an uncluttered approach to music, using the special subtleties of each voice and instrument in much the same way a good chef mixes carefully selected ingredients.
Like Johnson's two previous efforts, Ain't Dis Da Life doesn't have any bad moments, only good songs, one or two of which may end up as personal favorites.
Of particular interest is "Mr. Arthur's Place (Slide With Me Julia)", a tune written by ex-Rod Herring folkie Thom Bishop. Bishop's original version received some radio airplay in Champaign-Urbana two years ago. The longest tune on the album, "Mr. Arthur's Place" features the backing of a string quartet mixed tastefully with Johnson's guitar and vocal.
Johnson collaborates with fellow Sanskrit recording artist Mark Henley on "O.B. Glad", a short joyous celebration of life which ends much too soon. Henley adds a second guitar and back voice which complement Johnson's lead superbly. Another Henley composition, "High On The Border" is also included here.
Ain't Dis Da Life is yet another musical contribution tastefully offered from Johnson, comparing favorably with early albums of artists like Shawn Phillips, Bonnie Raitt, and James Taylor. One can only hope that Johnson hangs onto his musical integrity--willing to try new approaches without altering his style for the sake of change.