Michael Colton is a singer/songwriter and a blazing guitarist whose rootsy approach to countrified, bluesy pop goes right to the heart. With songs that simultaneously invoke storytelling traditions (a la Jason Isbell) and fiery energy (a la Keith Urban or Gary Clarke Jr.), Colton has discovered a way to reach audiences on multiple levels.
Colton’s new release “California Blue” features these qualities in abundance. Produced by Marty Rifkin (who also provides pedal steel, as he has done for Bruce Springsteen, Jewel, Tom Petty and countless others), the record displays Colton’s nexus of Americana storytelling, straightforward tunefulness and incendiary guitar work.
The story behind Colton’s song “Fall Away” is especially illuminating in terms of his perspective. “One day I overheard my toddler son say ‘Mommy, my love for you will never fall away,’” Colton shares. “And the next thing I knew I had a song.” Awareness seems to be entirely central to Colton’s methodology: “It’s part of our job as artists to distill fleeting moments in life that can somehow help bring the overall journey into focus,” he explains.
While Colton’s voice conveys obvious depth, his guitar solos incorporate the soaring bends of the Chicago blues tradition, alongside ethereal textures and lyrical motifs, typically unfolding into epic guitar adventures. Yet, guitar remains a means, not an end - “I like to play music rather than just the guitar,” Colton shares.
Colton started out as a cocky guitar upstart, delving deep into the explosive traditions of virtuosos like Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Exploring that music led him even farther back down the road, straight to Blues legend Robert Johnson, and in fact, Colton went on to record an EP of Johnson’s songs.
After paying his musical dues in countless bars and coffee houses, Colton had a career-changing encounter with acclaimed producer Blake English (George Benson, Toni Braxton, Jennifer Lopez) at an informal studio jam. English ended up tapping Colton for session work and producing “The Robert Johnson Sessions” for Colton as well as the simmering new instrumental “Sugar” on “Fever Dream.”)
Colton’s recent live appearances include South by Southwest and The Sundance Film Festival, as well as regular appearances at venues like Los Angeles’ House of Blues. Steve Trovato (“Fever Dream” co-producer and celebrated music educator) points out that Colton “has that rare combination of being a great singer and great guitarist with the ability to express who he truly is through both talents.”
Meanwhile, Colton is setting his sights on the open road, eager to delve ever deeper into the American experience. It’s just a way of life for Colton, and as he sings on his new release, “there’s no time to burn.”
“I don’t think of death as this dark struggle; we’re all going to die, but there was something liberating in hitting that boundary. It set me free,” Colton explains. “Robert Johnson’s music helped me heal. There is something joyful in that music that I couldn’t grasp until I was in the ICU hallucinating from the pain. When I healed, I heard his music differently.”
— Michael Colton