Michael Johnson is, as his many friends in Chicago will readily attest, a most interesting fellow. That hardcore music freaks of every persuasion find themselves in the Earl of Old Town listening attentively to this too-perfectly handsome blondie wearing a psychedelic folk uniform is fascinating enough.
Frankly, he seems at first glance very much like the organic outgrowth of the Mitchell Trio (with whom he did indeed once gig).
But when those fingers fly, my oh my! The strongest chords sound coaxed from his guitar, and those chords are slipped into the songs with powerful effect.
His voice is convincing but never in competition with his guitar. His repertoire covers some pretty broad ground--Jacques Brel followed by "Bluesette" and a Jesse Winchester tune.
There Is A Breeze is Michael Johnson's first album. There are slow points--the album starts off with a funereal "Pilot Me" and ambles into "In Your Eyes".
"Rooty Toot Toot for the Moon" could make one of those maddening "American Pie" type things if it were done a touch crasser. "I Got You Covered" is a dazzler--a strong Biff Rose tune with a solid acoustic chugging skeleton.
"On the Road" is given an afternoon treatment (as opposed to Bonnie Koloc's midnight reading). Villa-Lobos provides the guitar spectacular, and all ends on a properly bizarre note with Rogers and Hammerstein's "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught".
Michael Johnson's first album is fully half as good as Michael live, and that's enough to make it welcome in my home.
July 14, 1973
Shades of Don McLean...here is a singer similar in vocal style and shading. One also hears strains of James Taylor.
Best cuts: "There Is a Breeze", "Rooty Toot Toot For the Moon", "Happier Days".
Triad Radio Guide - Chicago, IL
A first album by a veteran folkie (who started his professional career in 1964 singing in coffeehouses in Chicago). Music that only used to be accessible to frequenters of the Earl is now accessible to all who enjoy soft melodies and lilting tones. MICHAEL JOHNSON is music for a quiet sunny Saturday afternoon -- Saturday because it's the opening of the weekend with all its lures and freedoms and soft promises. MICHAEL JOHNSON is an opening also -- an opening for your soul. Though most of the album is gentle and folkie, there's quite a range of moods in between. Like "See You Soon" -- it can make you nod your head and tap your toes with the best of 'em. Or take "I Got You Covered", a Biff Rose tune done in a pleasant rocking quasi-jazz style. Or even "Study in E Minor" for a nice classical interlude -- MICHAEL JOHNSON accompanied only by the squeaking of his fingers down the frets. If names mean much to you, you might like to know that Leo Kottke and Airto add their touches to a few numbers. The album as a whole is a lullaby for the soul. Watch out for "Rooty Toot Toot For The Moon" -- it's my pick hit.
August 5, 1973
by Michael Anthony
For the fans of folksinger Michael Johnson -- a considerable number of people in this area -- there will be little surprise that his debut album is as tasteful and inventive as it is.
The production values are high (with producing credit on various cuts given to Johnson, Chris Dedrick, Phil Ramone and Peter Yarrow). The sound is spacious and clear and Johnson's voice is as smooth and expressive as ever. The material comes from a diverse bag of contemporary sources, including Jackson Browne, Biff Rose and local singer-songwriter Mark Henley.
All of it is handled with great care and utilizes a variety of unusual and effective instrumental settings to augment Johnson's expert guitar work, such as pump organ and flugelhorn on "Pilot Me", the plaintive opening cut, and cello and harp on Henley's tune, "There Is a Breeze". Leo Kottke's bottleneck guitar is heard to good effect on another cut, "In Your Eyes".
Except for a couple of uptempo cuts, the material is soft, thoughtful and expressive in the manner of the best contemporary folk ballads, such as in Johnson's sensitive treatment of Browne's "My Opening Farewell".
The best cuts, for my money are "Rooty Toot Toot for the Moon", a lilting tribute to "motorcycles and far-out heavy trifles" and "On The Road", a wonderfully happy nostalgia tune about a boy and his dad lost in an old V8 in Montana. The album closes with a neat guitar solo of Villa Lobos' "Study in E minor" and a quick chorus of "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" from "South Pacific."
My own quibble with a generally splendid first album is the inclusion of "Old Folks", by Jacques Brel, the Kahlil Gibran of today's songwriters. This is obviously a minority opinion, since Brel's passion for melodrama ("it hurts so much, but life goes on") and fascination with the obvious ("the old silver clock ... waits for us all") have made him the favorites of millions.
Hopefully, Johnson's career will soar, as Brel's sinks into oblivion.
Minnesota Daily - University of Minnesota
August 8, 1973
By Austin Gilespie
Always nice to be surprised, and a debut album, There Is A Breeze, by somewhat local singer-guitarist Michael Johnson has flooded my senses with pleasant surprises.
The first and most impressive surprise is the aura of naturalism about the album. Some months back, in a warm-up set for one of the Mahavishnu Orchestra's Guthrie concerts, Johnson's music seemed overly slick. His strong and clear voice seemed a little too crisp and polished, his flamenco and classically influenced guitar playing was precise to the point of sounding sterile. He seemed a lot like the cabaret performer he had indeed been for several years.
Somewhere along the line the tension disappeared, and the spontaneous music on Breeze is happily worlds apart from the stiff music of that one concert set.
Part of a small but encouraging trend, Johnson is content to interpret the compositions of other people rather than merely fill up an entire album with self-penned material, regardless of quality. Full of fine choices, the album glows with good feeling. Two of the brightest elements being "On The Road" and "Rooty Toot Toot For The Moon" written by Carl Franzen and Greg Brown, respectively. Both tunes are light and bubbly as songs for children's games and full of crazily charming lyrics: "Singing rooty toot toot for the moon/It's the biggest star I've ever seen/It's a pearl of wisdom, a slice of green cheese/Burning just like kerosene."
Much much more, so some brief impressions. Lovely arrangements, prize winner being "There Is A Breeze", a wispy ballad gently suspended on a web of notes produced by acoustic guitar, cello, and classical harp. Hoorahs for the expressive high register bass on the "Rooty Moon" song (special treat the extended figure at the song's closing, neat little ride for acoustic and ambitious electric bass). A guitar instrumental "Study In E Minor" by Villa Lobos provided Johnson an opportunity to display his considerable guitar virtuosity in a classical direction, emphasizing subtle tone variations. For balance, there are a couple of snarling up tempo cuts, Biff Rose's "I Got You Covered" and Johnson's own composition "Happier Days". Finally, Johnson's graceful acoustic guitar playing provides a delicate embroidery-like affect to songs throughout the album. Yipes! What an accomplished first album. Michael Johnson, I hope you're proud of There Is a Breeze. You're certainly entitled to be.
September 16, 1973
By Clarence Page
Michael Johnson, a Minnesota guitarist-singer, has come up with a similar crazy quilt tho in a softer mood, on his long-awaited first album, There Is A Breeze.
As a former member of the Chad Mitchell Trio, Michael is not new to the studio.
Michael has some of the swiftest guitar-plucking-strumming fingers in the Midwest, and little of his energy is lost in translation to the plastic platter. But he is not a rapid-fire folkie. His moods are gentle without being crushingly sentimental.
His vibrato-less voice delivers tunes by Biff Rose, Jacques Brel, Jackson Browne and Rodgers and Hammerstein as well as his own composition. His backup team on strings, horns, keyboards and percussion are discreet, which is nothing short of excellent judgement.
September 16, 1973
By Al Rudis
Leo Kottke plays slide guitar on one cut of Michael Johnson's debut album, There Is A Breeze, and the interplay of Michael's and Leo's guitars is among the best things on this flawed album.
Johnson has a good voice, an ability to get into a good song and interpret it powerfully and a guitar talent that ranks with Kottke's and Fahey's. But, it seems, a bunch of people worked together to make this album a washout.
Chief villains are the various producers, two of whom Michael thanks in his liner notes. (Thanks for nothing, guys.) There were so busy adding interesting arrangements around Michael they didn't notice they were smothering him.
Next come the songwriters, and maybe Michael is to blame here if he picked the songs. Most of them are stiffs.
But occasionally some of Michael's talent shines through, as on the Jacques Brel song, "Old Folks", the Rodgers and Hammerstein--that's right--"You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" and his own "Happier Days" at least until the arrangement swallows him up. And, of course the guitar work on the classical piece, Villa-Lobos' "Study in E Minor", is dazzling.
The guitar backing in other songs, where it's upfront, is powerful, too. Michael ought to stick to guitar and voice, and maybe a little unobtrusive rhythm occasionally, for his next album. He doesn't have to worry about sounding like Kottke or Goodman or Prine or Lightfoot. He's got his own distinctive talents. But he needs some good songs and a producer like Denny Bruce to put these talents to use.
With an extensive background that includes guitar study with Luis Bonfa and Segovia, stints with the Chad Mitchell Trio and the Jacques Brel "Revue," Michael Johnson now steps out with a first solo effort that more than demonstrates his ample vocal and instrumental talents. Each one of his interpretations of fine contemporary material is a beautifully executed and self-contained gem with Johnson's extraordinary guitar technique adding a special presence. An impressive first album.
by Morgan Ames
Michael Johnson has the most undistinguished name in pop music since James Taylor, but look what happened to James. As a matter of fact, while the two artists do not sound alike, they operate on the same level. Probably both of them like Kenny Rankin, Judee Still, Seals and Crofts, the Eagles, Jackson Browne, and so on.
If there is anything "wrong" with Michael Johnson, it is only that he is late. The competition is already dug in. On the other hand, those who have already acquired an appetite for artists such as those named above are primed for Johnson. Proof lies in the fact that Johnson had a successful single the first time out, a charming song by Carl Franzen called "On The Road" ("We didn't know who we were/we didn't know what we did/we were just out on the road.")
Michael Johnson is not your regulation pop guitarist--and many of them are excellent. Johnson is much better than that. Though I noted this when I first heard him, I was still surprised to hear, in the middle of Side 2, a Villa Lobos piece called "Study in E minor". Actually I thought someone had changed albums on me while I was getting coffee. With Villa Lobos, color and tone are critical. Johnson's sound is as rich as it's clean-lined and assured.
My favorite tune is "I Got You Covered" by Biff Rose. (I don't know where Rose is, but he is sorely missed in music.) "Old Folks" is a strong piece by Jacques Brel and several others. It's beautifully written, but I sometimes wonder if thoughtful older people do not smile at the arrogance of the young, who love to write about being old and sad and used up. "Rooty Toot Toot for the Moon", by Greg Brown, is fine except that it is a musical carbon copy of A Whiter Shade of Pale.
The single, "On The Road", was well produced by Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul, and Mary) and Phil Ramone (probably the best of the New York engineers who have gotten very wise about producing in recent years) as well as Chris Dedrick. Dedrick seems to have been an important influence here as player, arranger, background singer, and producer.
Michael Johnson's album strikes me as a project in which spread each man involved worked up to his best capacity, which was considerable. That the album is as appealing commercially as it is artistically is a particular pleasure to listeners like me. Salud.
Post-Bulletin - Rochester, Minnesota
June 8, 1974
by Trish Ronald
Review Is a Preview Of Michael Johnson
Sunday evening a fellow named Michael Johnson will present a concert at Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater. Michael Johnson? An unlikely name for so exceptional a musician.
A song called "Rooty Toot Toot For The Moon" was my introduction to this young baritone. The unusual melody, full of syncopated rhythms and subtle lyrics, was executed by a trained, talented voice. But, like so many popular songs, its life was short, and Michael Johnson faded from my memory.
Then an excited library patron brought in a record called There Is A Breeze. It was an eclectic album with various composers and styles of music -- all sung by Michael Johnson. "Listen to this, " she urged. "The Library ought to have it."
She was right: a clear, ringing piano, a distinctive voice, then full orchestration. Within two phrases the singer had my undivided attention.
The album begins with "Pilot Me" by Greg Brown. Opening like a simple art song, it becomes more complex as it continues with important chordal embellishments and a steady, rhythmic bass line. "Old Folks", a Jacques Brel song rendered here in an English translation, is superb. The melody rings true of a French folk song, and Johnson's interpretation of the lyrics delivers the intended message. "There Is A Breeze", the title song, is one of the highlights of the album. Written by Mark Henley, it calls for an interesting orchestration of cello, harp, guitar and voice. Each instrument has an equally important role, the total sound is complete and full, a triumph of composition and execution.
On upbeat songs like "See You Soon", by Paul Johnson and "I Got You Covered" by Biff Rose, as well as his own composition, "Happier Days", Michael Johnson displays another facet of his talent imaginatively improvising his guitar's accompaniment. His articulation is beautifully demonstrated in Villa-Lobos' "Study in E Minor". Every note, including the harmonics, is clear and distinct. The arpeggios begin slowly, yet, even at the height of the accelerando, his technique is flawless. The variety of tempo shows his capabilities in diverse forms of serious music.
Michael Johnson is a rare find. If you are among the fortunate who have already discovered him, you're probably on your way to the Guthrie. If not, console youself with the Public Library's copy of There Is A Breeze.
Amazon.com customer reviews
r. scott kath from Powell, Wyoming
***** out of 5 stars
November 26, 1999 downhill from here
This is THE Michael Johnson recording. All of his subsequent recordings get washed out in the over production and attempt at finding that commercial market. The song selection and musicianship is excellent as is the variety in production credits (Phil Ramone, Peter Yarrow, Chris Dedrick). If you are a fan and have not listened to this recording you have no idea what you are missing.
docscott from Minneapolis, MN
***** out of 5 stars
December 9, 1999 There is a Breeze
As a guitarist, Michael Johnson was my mentor in the mid 1970's. There is a Breeze is, I feel, his very best work capturing not only the intricate beauty of his fingerpicking technique but also his passionate love for his guitar and song writing. It's influence is still felt in my own work.
Scott M. Bloom from Plymouth, Minn
***** out of 5 stars
February 6, 2000 His best work ever
This LP was a revelation to myself and many others here in the Twin Cities when it was released in 1973. It served as a guidepost to those of us who were trying new ways to go accoustically, without falling into the folk, country, blugrass thing that was popular at the time. His guitar stylings were intricate and different...and i spent many hours ripping him off. The lyric content of There is a Breeze, is at times wistful, poignant, introspective (without being too special) and Michael's voice pulled it off. The production on the LP is great. His backing musician's add alot to each piece without overwhelming them. He even uses a couple of local boys..Leo Kottke and Gordy Johnson's group at the time ...Petrus. There are two albums I would not live without....Kind of Blue by Miles Davis and There is a Breeze. I wish someone would re-issue Michael's follow-up to this called For All You Mad Musicians on the Sanskrit label. It is another treasure.
Single Reviews: Rooty Toot Toot For The Moon
August 22, 1973
Singer debuts with a quiet folk tune culled from his album. Fine melody fits artist's soft voice to a tee. Should see plenty of action on both FM and AM alike. "Rooty Toot's" a beaut!
Next Album - For All You Mad Musicians