Sentimental Soul. Homegrown Stories
Under the roof of his second floor apartment, on a makeshift stage in a Slovak
bar, hunched over his grandfather's baby grand piano – Michael Johnston draws
inspiration from many places, and creates timeless, affecting songs.
A passionate performer and "hot young Winnipeg multi-keyboardist" (the Toronto
Star), 29-year-old Johnston has opened for Barenaked Ladies and Rheostatics,
and collaborated with Bob Wiseman (formerly of Blue Rodeo). But it's his
recent work as a solo artist that has been gaining attention and acclaim from
fellow musicians, CBC radio and the enthusiastic crowds at his concerts.
Johnston's full-length solo debut, "Curious Heart" - released in January 2005 -
was produced with Don Kerr (Ron Sexsmith). Built around the piano, the album's
14 songs are an inspired mix of exquisite melodies, rootsy ballads, and
spirited vocal harmonies. Johnston's graceful and distinctively Canadian
lyrics create engaging moods and enduring images.
A cast of dream musicians including Maury Lafoy (Sarah Harmer), Don Rooke (Mary
Margaret O'Hara), Lewis Melville (Royal City), and long-time collaborator Reid
Jamieson embroider Johnston's arrangements with class and soul.
Written with a lead female vocalist in mind, Johnston invited Juno-nominee Oh
Susanna to perform his ballads “Apology” and “Sunday Afternoon.” Johnston also
welcomed the powerful lead vocals of Andy Maize (Skydiggers) on “The Country
North of Peterborough,” and the spellbinding performance of Jamieson on “Three
Johnston grew up an only child in Peterborough, Ontario. After studying Music
and English at the University of Guelph, and releasing two CDs with acoustic
pop quartet "Us and Wilbur", he moved to Toronto in 1999.
In 2002, Johnston became certified as an English-as-a-second-language teacher.
He took three months off, taught ESL in Bratislava, Slovakia and traveled
throughout Europe. He returned to Canada with a suitcase full of new songs, and
moved to Winnipeg on a VIA rail train, Valentine's Day of 2003.
These experiences are reflected in Johnston's distinctive approach to piano
playing, personal storytelling, and sincere performances. "Michael Johnston
takes me on a riverboat ride to the other side" says Dave Clark (Gord Downie
Since arriving to Winnipeg, Johnston has played keyboards with The Skydiggers,
shared the stage with Ruth Moody (Wailin' Jennys) and collaborated with Cate
Friesen. He was the driving force behind 2003 and 2004's Boys Play Girls
concerts, performing as Kate and Anna McGarrigle and Lucinda Williams, and
raising money for local charitable organizations.
He also recorded on Jamieson's debut “The Unavoidable Truth” (released in 2004
on Maple Music/Universal), as well as John Southworth's 2004 album "Yosemite".
In 2004, Johnston performed at the Folk on The Rocks festival in Yellowknife,
Northwest Territories and the Hillside Festival in Guelph. His song “Stars”,
appears on a 2004 compilation entitled “Made In Manitoba”, along with tracks by
The Weakerthans and James Keelaghan. His song "Katie" has been short-listed for
the National Campus Radio Association's 2005 "Dig Your Roots" compilation.
“Stars” is also sung each week by a grade 2/3 class at a public school in
How cool is that?
"A new Canadian classic"
- Dave Ullrich
"I was hooked from the very first song"
- Claudia Garcia de la Huerta,
Producer/Host - CBC Radio's "Big City, Small World"
"Imagine Danny Michel playing with the Rheostatics while wiggling around the
stage like Pee Wee Herman...sweet, uplifting, fresh and original"
- Michael Wrycraft
"Winnipeg's favourite transplanted Torontonian finally releases his first
full-length CD, and it's a sure-fire winner...Johnston's got a gift for writing
a great song...will surely be a consideration for the best of 2005"
- Jeff Robson
Host - "Tell The Band To Go Home", UMFM 101.5
"Great songs, great singing, great piano, great production"
- Sam Larkin
""...delicately beautiful" "
- the Toronto Sun
" ****...folk-centric soft rock, barrelhouse roots and traditional
country...Johnston's treasure trove of time-defying tunes will find many homes"
- Metro Magazine
"Haunting traditional melodies drive out from the East Coast to marry a
distinctly Southern Ontario sound (think a male Sarah Harmer). Throw in some
pretty Montreal-influenced arrangements (Stars, a dash of Cuff The Duke for a
low-key country twang, a few chilled out West Coast guitar arrangements and a
bunch of jazzy notes a la Nina Simone (OK, so she’s not Canadian, but she’s
still cool) and that’s only half the album."
- Chart Magazine