By Blake Parker
Andrew James Johnson’s album Winter’s Heart achieves a level of emotional potency so instantaneous it’s almost jarring. Johnson’s abilities on piano have been characterized as “simple” and “uncomplicated,” but by the end of the first track of Winter’s Heart, these words are challenged. Something in Johnson’s composition does have a purity and vulnerability to it, but I certainly hesitate to attribute it to the simplicity of his skills on the instrument.
What is at play in Winter’s Heart is a sense of distinct storytelling so self-assured the listener can even be fooled into thinking they already know the story as they are hearing it. Something magical occurs from start to finish of each of Johnson’s tracks on this album – almost like he conveys the emotions behind the songs so effectively we think those emotions are our own and are simply being brought forward, not Johnson’s that are being shared with us through the music. It’s almost frightening to realize this, as it seems Johnson finds a way to bypass the initial scrutiny of music by the listener and instead jump straight into the personal realm of the musical experience.
Some tracks on this album are less aggressive in the aforementioned sense – there are clear ebbs and flows throughout the track list, as any successful album would have. Following a dramatic, built-up, nearly chaotic number including various swirling strings and a driving theme, is a much mellower piece with relaxed and almost easy-going rhythm and a whimsical tone.
Johnson’s second single, Taylor’s Theme, takes an even further step away from the more active parts of the album and paints a gorgeous tonal landscape across which delicate cello dances and swirls. The track takes a wonderfully slow pace similar to the walking speed of two people who are far more interested in each other’s company than the walking itself. The track is emotionally reminiscent of spending lazy days with family or reforming a friendship that previously went dark.
Winter’s Heart is a wonderful exploration of sentiments and nostalgia from beginning to end; Johnson keeps listeners feeling like they are a part of the music in a curious but captivating way. Sometimes the melody falls exactly where you predict it will in a satisfying conclusion, other times the piano dances off into unexpected territory – but always in a way that should have been obvious and that builds even greater texture into the songs. Johnson is a craftsman of the keys and the melodies, but also of our very perception as it relates to Winter’s Heart. He grips the listener so powerfully with his music that minutes can pass in a span of seeming seconds, memories long forgotten emerge bright as day, and even entire perspectives can be shifted by the impact of these songs. Winter’s Heart is a masterpiece in emotionally compelling contemporary classical music, and wise listeners should keep a close eye on Johnson as he continues to create in the future.
Winter’s Heart will be released on November 17 following a launch show on the 13th at The Crypt on the Green, St. James Clerkenwell in London.