Then & Now Album Reviews
R & R: The Industry's Newspaper
August 22, 1997
Then & Now is a different kind of greatest-hits package. The hits are there, but Johnson recorded new versions of the songs originally recorded for RCA and EMI America. There's also Johnson's duet with Alison Krauss on Kenny Loggins' "Whenever I Call You Friend". With Johnson's voice sounding as great as ever, he's in fine form in the mostly acoustic versions of songs like "The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder", "Bluer Than Blue", "Give Me Wings", and "Almost Like Being In Love".
Dayton Daily News - Dayton OH
Reviewed by Marc Pendleton
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Michael Johnson has performed off-Broadway and has spent 20 mostly spectacular years honing his craft. He has fought stage fright and has won.
Yet, when he first heard a duet of he and Alison Krauss on "Whenever I Call You Friend", he lost it ... barfed big time, "because I knew we had something special."
A hit for Kenny Loggins and Stevie Nicks in 1978, that song and a half-dozen other gems join three new efforts in Then & Now, a wonderfully updated version of Johnson's best songs that all showcase his classically trained acoustic guitar fretmanship, which was not included on any of the original versions.
Reworked are strikingly heartfelt and fresh takes of "Almost Like Being In Love", "This Night Won't Last Forever", "That's That", "I'll Always Love You" and "Bluer Than Blue". Johnson, an unassuming string wizard whose affectionate voice is a perfect match, has parlayed that love theme into several No. 1 hits.
You think Krauss put the whammy on Keith Whitley's "When You Say Nothing at All"? Wait until you see the video of "Whenever I Call You Friend", which was shot earlier this month and will be released in late October. No bucket needed.
Michael Johnson's first album in almost three years is an interesting hybrid. There are a few new songs, including a countrified version of Kenny Loggins' "Whenever I Call You Friend", with a winsome assist by Alison Krauss.
And there are new versions of his old hits. Pop successes include "Bluer Than Blue" and "This Night Won't Last Forever". Country fans will recall "The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder" and "Give Me Wings". While they recall the original renditions, they have quieter, simpler arrangements.
You also get a couple of up-tempo songs in the slinky, slightly cynical "Happier Days" and boogie woogie of "Cryin' Shame".
Johnson's forte has always been ballads, and he acquits himself well with the slow songs. It would have been nicer, however, if he had picked up the tempo more often. Country fans might go for a few of the songs with adult contemporary lovers looking for a mellow time.
By Valerie Glenz
Michael Johnson's '70s pop hits were so overplayed back then, you'd think they'd be better left buried. But Johnson uses his guitar virtuosity, plus stripped-down string arrangements, to breathe new life into "Bluer Than Blue" and "This Night Won't Last Forever". The highlights of this album, though are the country ballads he recorded in the '80s - "Give Me Wings" and "The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder". They were beautiful, poignant then, and are even more so in Johnson's rerecordings. Good too, is his second time around on "Almost Like Being In Love", with guitar and dobro giving the old standard a new sensuality. There are three "new" songs here, the most memorable being an unusual, very slow treatment of Kenny Loggins' "Whenever I Call You Friend", featuring Alison Krauss on vocals and viola.
By Lloyd Carroll
May 13, 1999
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.
Whenever I Call You Friend
Edited by Larry Flick
MICHAEL JOHNSON WITH ALISON KRAUSS
Johnson and Krauss revisit the Kenny Loggins evergreen, transforming it into an intimate acoustic ballad. By doing this, they draw the listeners' attention to their own charming voices, as well as the simple beauty of the song's melody. The slow pace will rattle those who are stuck on the original recording at first. However, by the time you get to the sweet harmonica solo that closes this version, you'll be hooked and wanting more.
Amazon.com customer reviews
firstname.lastname@example.org from Alabama Georgia area
**** out of 5 stars
October 31, 1998
Updated takes on old familiar songs entertain
Michael's songs are the melodies that you hum while driving to work and wonder where did that come from. Once again he has updated the old familiar tunes to delight listeners once again. The songs are a lighter shade of the original cuts and should please the most avid fan and introduce new fans to this modern troubadour.
A music fan from New Jersey
** out of 5 stars
January 5, 1999
I enjoy Michael Johnson's music. I have seen him perform live and always anticipate his music on the radio. I ordered Then and Now through Amazon because his music is so difficult to find in any music store. Two songs on the CD, "This Night Won't Last Forever" and "Bluer Than Blue" are not the versions I have ever heard on the radio. They are more vocal than musical and left me disappointed with my purchase.
A music fan from Collingwood, ON, Canada
***** out of 5 stars
January 23, 1999
Music that touches the soul.
Michael at his best. I wish he'd tour Canada.
A music fan from Pine City, MN
***** out of 5 stars
January 25, 1999
Michael Johnson has once again proven his tremendous talent. This long time listener is glad that Mr. Johnson has abandoned his country calling and is concentrating once again on his lyrical folk songs. Looking forward to Christmas '99 in Minnesota!
Bill "ORANGE" Lyons (Orangeman@bigfoot.com) from Los Angeles, CA
***** out of 5 stars
February 28, 1999
You CAN Teach an Old SONG New Tricks
I usually don't buy "greatest hits" recordings because either they are not the songs I thought were the greatest or I already had the songs on other CD's. But Mr. Johnson decides to go back into the studio and record new versions of some of his hits. With the delivery of his somewhat scratchy voice to the beautiful way he delivers a melody, this CD is like going to a live performance and having the artist perform all of the hits you love. Nine of these ten offerings are excellent! Whether it's the wonderful stories in the songs, or the way he turns the beat around in "That's That", or just the totally different approach he uses for "Whenever I Call You Friend", Michael Johnson has just proven you can teach an old song new tricks.
A music fan from Seattle, WA
** out of 5 stars
January 12, 2000
I was also very disappointed with this CD. I felt that the songs were drawn out and sleepy. I was hoping for the original sound of "THEN" and didn't care for the "NOW". This one will rarely come out of my CD rack. Note: Do not operate heavy machinery while listening to this CD.
A music fan from Newton Lower Falls, MA
*** out of 5 stars
July 11, 2000
I loved all of these songs when they originally came out. This "unplugged" version is nice as well.. but I think I was expecting more from this. Michael is so talented and has a great voice. I just recently saw him in concert and it made me miss listening to his music!
A very pleasant surprise, May 28 2002
**** out of 5 stars
If you can get past the fact that these are not the original hit versions, you will find that this is a nice, mellow CD to listen to - just like I'd imagine going to see Michael live would be. The sound quality and the performance are both wonderful, with a "Mountain Stage" feel. The reworking of "Whenever I Call You Friend," with Alison Krauss from Union Station, is a revelation - I fell in love with the song all over again. If you find this one at a bargain price, which isn't hard to do, definitely give it a chance.
Fabulous!!, Aug 3 2006
***** out of 5 stars
This CD gave me goose bumps!. This music....this sound is exactly where I would expect Michael Johnson to be at this point in his life. Back in the 80's when he was on the radio a lot, I was in my 20's and the music was very top 40's in sound. Very slick and produced, full of beat and fun to listen to!. This CD on the other hand is a work of art. That's the difference here!. Michael's older and so am I. Listen to this version of "I'll always love you" or "bluer than Blue" and tell me differently!. It is simply astonishing to listen to!. For the first time I realise how great of a guitarist Michael is!. The old recordings hid this great talent with the drums and synth!. He has never been in finer voice as well.
From a recording standpoint, this is one of the finest sounding CD's I have ever heard!. Great care was taken making this cd and the recording is simply impeccable. For those with the proper equipment, it is recorded in HDCD which produces the equivelent of 20 bit sound and this CD delivers all the benefits of the medium like I have never heard it before!
This is a classic for all true fans! Enjoy!
Next Album - The Very Best of Michael Johnson: Bluer Than Blue