On July 16th, 2014, Michael released his 4th studio album, A Look Into My Heart, guided by the philosophy that “you have to give a piece of you to touch someone else.” It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows him that this thought inspired Michael to give us a piece of him with A Look Into My Heart, a 13 track record comprised of memorable melodies as well as a wealth of insight into Michael’s perspectives on issues surrounding love. From the tongue in cheek and motivating to the consoling and questioning, this album has music for everyone who’s ever loved before.
Opening track “I’m Coming” will put wind in anyone’s sails. Consisting of a pick-me-up, piano-based chord progression repeated throughout the song, “I’m Coming” serves as an energetic announcement for not only Michael on this album, but also for anyone who’s determined to accomplish something big. It also sets a precedent for the rest of the record that does not go unmet — tight percussion, soaring choir background vocals (no doubt a result of Michael’s upbringing and time writing music in the church), supporting organs, an interjecting horn section and an always-present noodling guitar riff that adds a funky flavor into the mix.
Egleton turns things down a notch in track 2, the slow and sultry “Baby Baby Baby.” It’s once more a great example of the musicianship and production talent present on this album—Wes McCraw of Creekside Studio and Samuel Haygood of N-DA-Grove Productions manned the board—as all voices dance around one another to eventually form an intricate mosaic of sound. “Baby…” is bluesier than “I’m Coming”, both instrumentally and lyrically, as Egleton pines for the object of his desire to return his attention. Lines like “Can’t you see I need you / All I want to do is please you / Please here my cry / Some times I feel like I could die” are adorned with slick guitar and piano solos that take over when words simply aren’t enough.
“Like My Girl” is the first instance of a guest background vocalist on the album as singer Greg Rollins and Egleton trade fantasies about a dream girl each wants to make a wife. Musically, it’s brighter than “Baby” but still laid back and groovy. The piece is centered on a catchy plucked strings riff, placed in such a way that it’s as if it’s leaving its two cents after every vocal line. The other voices are more sustained than we’ve seen to this point, with long, drawn out horn lines and a sustained organ providing the support for all that’s happening around it. The crown jewel of this song is without question the juicy sax solo halfway through.
Given its title, it should come as no surprise that things get cheeky in track four, “Donk a Donk.” The sounds are no less suggestive than the title, and if there was any question remaining as to the song’s subject matter, guest rapper Samuel Haygood puts them to rest with rhymes like “she got what I want / back that up like a tonka truck.”
The album re-enters Egleton’s traditional territory with “Back Into My Heart”, a sunny mid-pace track that features an adventurous harmonica and a busy percussion section. All of these moving parts work together to provide the sonic canvas for Egleton to sing about letting a woman back into his heart after a dry spell caused by a fight. Title track “Take a Look into my Heart” comes next, bringing with it a tropical atmosphere featuring minimal percussion, a smooth acoustic strum pattern and a bed of horns as Michael reminds us of the importance of looking into your significant other’s heart to unlock the true potential of your love.
By the time we reach the halfway point of this record, it’s become readily apparent that Michael has experience with many dimensions of love, and how many perspectives there are to any romantic situation. Take track 7, “It’s Over”, for example: A breakup song in every definition of the phrase, Michael uses the inevitability of the typical breakup to, instead of harping on the negative, encourage any recently single person to look at a breakup instead as a transition to the next chapter with lines such as, “When it’s all said and done you have to look out for #1.” The longest song on the record by a considerable margin, “It’s Over” is also the most solid soul track on A Look Into My Heart — flawless background vocals, horns, and a riveting guitar solo all contribute to this being a quintessentially feel good song. It’s over, and that’s ok.
If “It’s Over” had a cousin, it would likely be “Why Does It Hurt So Bad”. Whereas “It’s Over” sent a message of resolved, “Why Does It Hurt So Bad” sees Michael questioning why the pain of a breakup is so severe and begging for his partner to stay and give him another shot. Still, the music here is not minor by any stretch of the imagination, further adding to the feeling of warmth and resolve that Michael’s music constantly emits.
The feel good vibe lumbers forward in the instrumental “Orchid Trauma”, a funky 5 minute track with an elaborate and pronounced bass line, not to mention a family of riffs and solos across different instruments that play off one another. An instrumental version of “Donk a Donk” follows “Orchid Trauma”, and then we’re greeted with the most menacing track on the record, “Playing a Game.” Egleton couldn’t let the whole album pass without one mention of the unspoken “game” that takes place in the dating arena. In this scenario, guest rapper KT Beats speaks of a girl he was attracted to but who turned out to only be a tease, interested in using him for his money. The rhymes here are incredibly clever and are supported by Egleton’s vocal lines like “Playin’ a game / of give and take / now you’re the loser / shook you like an earthquake.” The dark tint to this track is enhanced by snarling instrumental riffs and lots of sustained “doom and gloom” and chords.
A Look Into My Heart closes out with two songs that could not be more different from “Playing a Game”. “You and I” is an instrumental love story, piano and guitar each singing their own songs in the form of solos and then wedding near the end to play together harmoniously. “Hold On To A Song” is the purest gospel tune on the record, consisting of nothing but soulful piano chords and deep, wise and mighty vocals from Michael and his backing cast. Life gets tough, we all know that, and it’s these kind of songs that can pick anyone up and make them feel no less than blessed to be alive. When you’re down, hold onto a song and the power of music will see you through. Or as Michael puts it, “Until I get a little stronger, I hold onto a song.”
The album is a powerhouse from start to finish, and even looks great, too. In an age where album artwork has become an afterthought due to its digitization, A Look Into My Heart comes packaged in a sleeve with a crisp orange and black design, the best part of which is Michael’s picture on the cover. A mirrored image of two Michaels sitting next to each other in an identical pose, Egleton appears as if he’s contemplating something deep, possibly even looking into his heart and inviting listeners to do the same. It’s a reminder of the album’s predominant teaching point: Michael found the strength and resolve heard on the album by looking deep into his heart, and we’d all be better if we looked into our hearts and paid the goodness found there forward.