Michael Johnston Curious Heart

For his first album as a solo artist, Winnipeg-based singer-songwriter Michael Johnston has assembled quite the A-list of Canadian indie roots players and singers. The goodwill he engendered during his time as part of the Toronto scene has paid off, as such admiring peers as Andy Maize, Oh Susanna, Reid Jamieson and Don Rooke (the Henrys) lend a hand here. The first three listed actually take the lead vocal role on four songs (Suzie on two), giving this already multi-faceted work further depth. Johnston is equally fluent as a pianist and songwriter, and his unaffected vocal style is warmly ingratiating. Kudos to producer/drummer Don Kerr for his astute work too (the disc was recorded at the famed Gas Station studio). Instrumentation like Lewis Melville’s steel, mandolin and banjo adds a roots-y feel, while trumpet, Rooke’s kona and Kerr’s cello help create some ethereal atmospheres. At heart, Johnston is a pop songsmith. Burt Bacharach is a key influence, Ron Sexsmith is a suitable reference point, and tunes as melodic as "When You’re In Love” and "Off Guard” deserve airplay. Curious Heart is one seriously impressive debut. (Zunior)