A first love faith gives birth to a childlike simplicity, wonder and creativity that are often missing today.
The Artist/The Riddle
Artist: Mike Johnson
Label: Born Twice Records (www.retroactiverecords.net)
Length: 10 tracks/35:15 minutes
Back in the late 1970s I remember seeing The Artist/The Riddle by Mike Johnson in my friend’s large LP collection of early Christian music. A smiling Johnson with a sparkle in his eye is in the foreground while the background of the album cover reflects the peace and tranquility of Christ’s future millennial reign.
It was a remarkable time with artists like Larry Norman, Keith Green, Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy, Barry McGuire, the 2nd Chapter of Acts, Nancy Honeytree, the All Saved Freak Band, Love Song, Children of the Day, and many more singing of their faith in a contemporary music context. Like the move of God that preceded it, bringing many in the counter-culture to Christ, it was new. There was no established Christian music industry like there is today.
A first love faith gave birth to a childlike simplicity, wonder and creativity that are often missing today. As that early movement became an industry the music and content became more homogenized losing some of its freshness. It makes me thankful for artists that create something new and different. With so many talented Christian artists inside and outside the industry, how wonderful it would be to see original expressions of faith blossom again.
Mike Johnson was one that I overlooked when I started listening to the music of that era. It may be because he never achieved the same popularity as the more well-known artists. But that was not for lack of talent. He was an original member of the Mike Bloomfield Blues band and went on to become lead guitarist for Electric Flag and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. His background shows in music that is slightly more complex than what is found on some of the early Christian releases.
One of the remarkable features of The Artist is the diversity of styles. “The Artist” starts off with gentle folk sounds, but when this allegory shifts to the work of the enemy, the sound becomes biting. Johnson repeatedly uses story to convey biblical truth.
The other title song, “The Riddle,” is more renaissance with the use of flute and recorder. “I Met a Man” is a humorous rag depicting the futility of trying to find life outside of Christ.
“Lord Doctor” is a favorite with its lyrical guitar, reminiscent of Phil Keaggy and vocals that sound a lot like Terry Talbot, another early pioneer in this genre.
“Jesus loves you” may be cliché but it sounds fresh to me on “Little Boy,” where a father confesses to a son that God loves him more than he ever can.
“The Witness” extols a person who would otherwise be unknown but for his faithful testimony, which changed lives throughout his town. This depicts true significance.
It’s interesting that the last three tracks, though varied in style, all relate in some way to Christ’s return. “The Sound of His Returning” is regimented marching band music. Something similar to this could have been used many years ago by the Salvation Army as they marched and sang like a banner of Christ waving through the mean streets of London.
“The Wedding” draws heavily on Jewish marriage custom with music to match. The closing “We Want You to Return” combines those words at the end with a winsome melody. I appreciate the second coming emphasis, which does not seem as prominent in our day.
I missed this when it was first released in 1976, but the remastering is excellent, making the production closer to today’s standards. It is a worthwhile addition for fans of the artist and any who are interested in music from that special time. For mature Christians, it can be reminder to cultivate again that first love.