Every now and then there comes an album that seems to have ingeniously soared into such spirit and authenticity and coyly finds a way to your soul. Michael Johns' exquisite album, Hold Back My Heart is one of those albums. Best described as soulful and genuine, Johns bears his soul for listeners with his effortless and attractive voice while revealing not just the beauty of his tone but how outstanding music can truly be.
It's been a little more than a year since Michael Johns was on the American Idol stage, wooing audiences week after week with his distinguishing performances and his endearing personality which garnered him much acclaim from the judges and fans alike. His abrupt and controversial elimination from Idol caused quite an upset with fans but since then, he's been determined and has been working on music nonstop. Besides rubbing elbows with the most respected music icons in the business, Johns along with his friends and music partners, Rye Randa and Jeff Foxworth released a soundtrack earlier this year for the Shaun White documentary, Don't Look Down - The Height Of Competition. It garnered much acclaim from critics and listeners all round around, especially with the fan favourite duet, "Life Is Okay" featuring Johns' fellow Idol cohort, Brooke White.
Hold Back My Heart which is released through Downtown Records, contains 12 tracks - six of which were produced and co-written by Johns and Dave Cobb with contributing material from Diane Warren, James Morrison and John Shanks.
The album opens up almost delicately with the soft and tender track "Heart On My Sleeve". The track, also being his debut single from the album peaked high on the adult contemporary charts and most recently was the most requested song on AOL Radio by a mile beating out his fellow season seven Idol contestants, David Archuleta and last year's reigning American Idol champ (and best friend) David Cook. The track, written by James Morrison and John Shanks showcases a stripped down Johns expressing his vulnerability with strong vocals and a distinct piano.
The second track on the album, "To Love Somebody" was written by Bee Gees member, Barry Gibb and originally meant for Otis Redding, an artist Johns admires greatly. There's no real reason to compare Johns' version to the Bee Gees because they both are distinctively different and both respectably amazing. However Johns' version of the track is in the exact same arrangement as Redding's was supposed to be; upbeat and bouncy and ever so smooth. It sounds almost as if his voice is glazing your ears to such an extreme of melodic harmony.
The next two tracks on his album are exceptionally lively and playful. "Feeling Alright" and "Little Bear" are snazzy tunes that will have you tapping your feet and wondering why this wasn't a side of Michael Johns we didn't see on American Idol. He can really jam and expressively present another version of himself without losing any of the essence that makes up who he is. His soulful and sincere voice makes tracks like these two all the more interesting because he has such a great connection to them and it makes it all the more convincing for the listener to relate to.
The track "Fool's Gold" is an introspective song that comes off almost blasé and carefree in the melody but is more reflective than anything once you dive into the depths of the lyrics. "Mountains", like the third and fourth tracks, is an excellent song that illustrates his voice in such a strikingly attractive way. It starts off slow but builds up momentum into an almost soulful song bordering jazzy rock that will have you up on your feet in no time.
"Fire" is another great dance tune with a fun arrangement with light background vocals. The whole song almost borders a Shaft type feel; it's all very soulful and reminiscent of a James Brown number. Johns' voice in this track comes off almost rebellious but still maintains that boyish sort of charm he so firmly withholds.
The eighth tune on the album, "Hold Back My Heart" is a superbly written track with an amazing arrangement. It comes off cool, classy and relaxed. It's really almost sensual, the way his vocals play off with the beat of the music. This is one of the deepest and bluesy jazz tracks on the album and it's as if he has a great sense of the meaning behind the song and that makes it all the more engaging to listen to. There's a deep vulnerability in the way he plays with the words and the sheer beauty of a Michael Johns song is that he pours his whole heart into his music – everything that he's experienced goes into a song no matter what it's about and this tune is no different.
"This Is Goodbye" is another track on the album where Johns solidifies the type of artist he is – a bluesy rock soul singer. It's a tender, calm and honest song that is almost reminiscent of an Otis Redding song like "These Arms Of Mine" or even the song he auditioned with for American Idol last year, "I've Been Loving You Too Long". This could easily be included in a motion picture soundtrack.
The track "It's Too Late" is a somewhat breezy song with beautiful beats and lyrics and comes off almost more positive in it's melody than the song's meaning gives into. "Heart Is Weak" is a gorgeous track with a delicate piano arrangement. Johns' voice comes off ever so tough and it feels as if with ease, he's pursuing the listener to really understand and grasp his overall sentiments.
The last track on the album, "I Turn To You" is a much more stripped down song as compared to the first eleven tracks with just his bare voice and a light guitar and is in the simplest of words: beautiful. There's no other way to put it. There's just such a great sincerity and simplicity in the melody and the voice and it adds a sweet personal touch to the song's meaning. It's demurely candid in its arrangement and clearly he doesn't need musical instruments to back his voice. It comes off as probably one of Johns' strongest vocals.
Whereas Johns' Idol cohorts David Cook and David Archuleta are recognized for their individuality in music, Michael Johns plays the modern day role of a young rock and bluesy artist pretty chaste in his choices. For an official debut from an eliminated American Idol contestant, I have reason to believe this is one record that critics and fans will enjoy for years to come. It has everything music lovers will like without losing touch with the overall theme of the album. It is a surefire classic in every right and Michael Johns' talent for singing and songwriting is remarkable.
Every song on the album is crafted so brilliantly and connects well with one another without sounding redundant track after track and in the end, this is an impressive record. Johns is bound to make waves in the business with this accomplishment and turn heads with his ability to make a melody and lyrics more than just music to your ears.
Stars: * * * * *
Hold Back My Heart
Composed by: Michael Johns, Dave Cobb, James Morrison, John Shanks & Diane Warren
Length of Album: 50 mins approx.
Produced by: Downtown/Fontana
The album is available everywhere today, in-stores and online. Be sure to pick up your copy!