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Music Review: Michael Johns – Hold Back My Heart

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Michael Johns is set to release his new album Hold Back My Heart on June 23rd. Johns was a contestant on American Idol in 2008. While he only finished the contest in eighth place, the show did give him some much needed national exposure.

Before the show, Johns had been struggling in the business for a while. After a few close brushes with a "big break," only to have his music remain unreleased, Johns auditioned for American Idol. His unexpected early departure is well known among fans of the show.  It may have been one of the factors that led to the addition of the new judges "second chance” rule.

All of that is behind Johns now. In the past year he has made several television appearances. He wrote and recorded a soundtrack for Shaun White’s snowboarding documentary Don’t Look Down. I had the opportunity to speak with Johns last year when Hold Back My Heart was still in the early stages of development. At the time he emphasized that the music was the most important thing to him and that this release would have a “rock/soul vibe.” Now, a year later, the album is here.

Hold Back My Heart does have a rock/soul vibe with a definite emphasis on soul. On this album Johns is certainly in his element, delivering a tight soul and old school R&B album. I dare say there is not a bad track on it. If anyone was unsure while watching Idol of what musical style Johns considered himself, they need only listen to this album. The songs are well written and all emphasize the strengths of his voice. The album’s first single “Heart On My Sleeve” was released in April and has been doing well on the adult contemporary charts.

Die-hard Johns fans will recognize five of the tracks from a demo album he recorded prior to appearing on Idol. The album was never officially released but briefly could be found online. The five songs reserved for this release were definitely the best of the bunch, and it’s good to see they found a place on this album.

Especially good is “Fool’s Gold.” The song is a blues ballad that has a Rolling Stones (a la “I Got The Blues”) meets the Allman Brothers kind of feel. “Feeling Alright” is a fun upbeat track that is probably the closest thing to rock on the entire album. The song is reminiscent of INXS both musically and vocally. And of course I mean that in a good way. At their best INXS melded R&B, rock and pop into a contemporary throwback that was fun to listen to. This song achieves that sound.

“Fire” is a funk song with a definite 70’s sound. In fact, I was almost positive the song was a cover of an old song, but it was actually written by Dave Cobb and Brent Roam. Cobb co-wrote six of the twelve songs on the album with Johns, as well as two other songs with Roam. 

Among the other highlights, a personal favorite of mine is “Turn To You,” the song that closes the album. The song is very heartfelt and touching in its lyrics. It's about having that one person who is always there for you, and is beautifully sung by Johns.

“It’s Too Late” and “This Is Goodbye” are two sad blues ballads that Johns puts his all into vocally. “Heart On My Sleeve” is a Paul McCartney-esque piano based ballad that has a very nice and pleasant sound. The biggest surprise is Johns’ cover of the Bee Gees hit “Love Somebody.” The song is arranged quite differently and I didn’t recognize it until the chorus. Johns’ arrangement leans more toward an Otis Redding soul style than disco. The sound works quite well for the song.

“Hold Back My Heart” and “Heart Is Weak” (written by Diane Warren) are solid tracks, though I don’t find them as distinctive as some of the other tracks on the album. Both songs make good album tracks and Johns’ singing is particularly effective on “Heart Is Weak.” The title track has a cool little groove that is fun to listen to.

Hold Back My Heart is a must for anyone who is a fan of Johns, or simply liked him on Idol. Hopefully the high quality of the songwriting, musicianship and vocals will help the album catch on with fans of soul, r&b and bluesy pop.

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About Sherry Lipp

Sherry Lipp is an entertainment and food writer who specializes in film and television reviews. She has published the gluten and grain-free cookbook Don't Skip Dessert.
  • http://michaeljohnsonline.com/ Allison

    Great review, Sherry!

  • kbr

    Fantastic review! I can’t wait to hear the whole album next week when it is released!

  • Pamela

    Thanks for the review, Sherry! Michael is so incredibly talented, and I am looking forward to this album like you wouldn’t believe.

  • Terry

    Very Nice Review..couldn’t agree with you more. Can’t wait to get Michael’s CD!

  • Tara

    Excellent review Sherry, he is truly talented artist and I can’t wait for his album to be released. The little snippets we hear are such teasers!

  • Jessica

    What an awesome review Sherry! I can not wait to get the album in my hands, his voice is unique and flawless.

  • Queenie

    Nice review! Thank you for writing it, from one of those “diehard” Michael Johns fans! Can’t wait to buy the cd!

  • aleli

    Thanks for the good review! It made me more excited for MJ’s album!

  • Sharon

    I am anxiously waiting for Tuesday! The preview clips I’ve heard have left me wanting more. His vocals sound amazing!

  • Kathleen

    Finally, Fool’s Gold gets a mention, I love love that song by Michael.

  • Tony

    I purchased Heart On My Sleeve right when it came out on iTunes and just bought the entire album today. I can’t tell you how great the whole collection really is. Every single song is heartfelt, beautiful, and very well put together. I really hope Michael Johns gets some recognition for this album – he deserves the chance to keep making records for years to come.