There’s something unabashedly old-fashioned about “My Heart Belongs to You,” from its sentimental title to its easy-going, midtempo melodicism. There’s something old-fashioned about Johnathan Rice as well, being the rare 21st-century singer/songwriter who is making a career of it without gathering much in the way of blog buzz and hipster worship, relying instead on more, shall we say, professional tastemakers such as actual music publications and real-life music supervisors (his earliest marketplace breakthrough came via song placements on The OC and Grey’s Anatomy). Instead of worrying about his social media presence he has spent time doing things like playing Roy Orbison in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. (I will note however that Rice is indeed a dry and entertaining Twitterer, so it’s not like he’s living in 1974.)
In any case, this song is terrific. Check out how quickly it hooks us via solid songwriting chops—the verse adjoins four initial measures of pleasing, run-on melody lines with four follow-up measures of breath-catching, in which the melody is related, but different, and if anything, even catchier. It’s an easy step from there into a two-part, four-measure chorus, which resolves all melodies and leads us, with some gratifying “oo-oos,” back to the beginning. The conciseness of Rice’s craft is a joy to behold; he does not muddy a good thing with a tacked-on bridge, creating drama in the last third of the song instead via the rarely-used tool of a false ending.
Rice was born in Virginia but raised partially in Scotland, his parents’ native country. He moved from Virginia to New York City at the age of 18 on September 9, 2001; his first album, Trouble is Real, was released in 2005. A tour highlight for him that year was opening for R.E.M. in London’s Hyde Park in front of 80,000 people. In 2006, he joined Jenny Lewis’s touring band, and the two of them have had a close working (and personal) relationship ever since, including a lot of songwriting together. In 2010, the two formed the duo Jenny and Johnny, and released an album of the same name. “My Heart Belongs to You” is from Rice’s third solo album, Good Graces, which is coming in September on SQE Music. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.