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Life by Michele McLaughlin
- posted by Candice Michelle on 3/16/2017
Michele McLaughlin - Life
Michele McLaughlin is a self-taught pianist and composer with a remarkably impressive recording catalog that includes both Billboard charting and multiple award-winning albums. Having recently had the pleasure of meeting Michele at a performance in my area, I found her demeanor to be warm and personal, as she shared inspiring personal stories behind various compositions, which were often laced with a good dose of humor and related via captivating storytelling. On her latest album, simply titled Life, Michele perfectly captures a compelling range of dynamic expression and quieter introspection throughout its thirteen beautiful compositions of contemporary solo piano arrangements, which often bear an intrinsically classical elegance throughout.

The album opens with “The Gift”, a briskly flowing and positively upbeat composition that boasts a brightly colorful melody along a lightly galloping stanza. This expressive and lively mood is somewhat contrasted by “The Storm”, a slightly darker piece with a brooding undercurrent, perhaps dually representing both a literal and metaphorical storm of inner struggle and turmoil. “At Home” is a comparatively tenderer, leisurely-paced number which seemingly speaks of the comfort that a safe and secure home brings, even recalling that of being gently tucked into bed at night as a child. I’m also especially fond of the title track, “Life”, in which a cascading, hurried stanza alternates with a boldly expressive melody in a constantly forward motion. “Drifting Through A Dream” is perhaps my favorite piece on the album that beautifully drifts upon a mesmeric, repeating signature throughout. Gently understated with a touch of nostalgia and wistfulness, it aptly conveys the notion of being in a dreamlike haze as recollected memories gently fade in and out. “Heartbroken” is a delicately melancholic piece that perfectly captures the fragility of the emotional heart itself. The mournful overtone of this piece is aptly followed by the more affirmative “Stronger”, which gradually unfolds like a butterfly slowly emerging from its cocoon that will go on to experience life from an entirely new perspective. Another personal favorite is “Crossroads”, a somewhat pensive number that seems to suggest that of arriving at a fork in the road while contemplating which path to follow. Wrapping up the album is “Give It Time”, a dramatically bolder piece of starker contrasts that conveys an affirming message of patience and resolve.

Described as an album “about life’s dichotomies… balance and disorder, light and dark, ups and downs, joys and sorrow, peace and turbulence, hope and despair, and so on”, Life is a remarkable aural painting of an artist’s personal journey and finding one’s place in this often chaotic world. Ranging from dynamic and highly expressive to softer, subtler nuances, Michele’s hands are in constant, flowing movement across the keys, as she seemingly shifts through the registers with remarkable ease and effortlessness. Unquestionably born a natural pianist-composer, there’s an inherent emotional depth to her compositions, as she imprints each one with a signature sound that is distinctive and individualistic to her spirit. It’s certainly no wonder this amazing artist has built up a loyal following of listeners, and the beautiful complexity that is Life is sure to further affirm her place as one of today’s premier and outstanding contemporary solo pianists! ~Candice Michelle (Journeyscapesradio.com)
Rating: Excellent
Urban Metta, Vol. 1 by Anaamaly
- posted by Dyan Garris on 3/11/2017
A Masterpiece of Zen
At first glance or listen, one might perceive the album, “Urban Metta, Volume 1,” by Anaamaly (otherwise known as Phoenix based recording artist, Phil Strickland), as “just another New Age relaxation album.” Far from it. Reminiscent of Steven Halpern’s sound healing work, here in “Urban Metta, Volume 1,” we have this same kind of multi-dimensional healing music, carried up a few notches, and evocative of a contemporary, innovative, 21st century Zen. In fact, the whole album is so Zen, it may even redefine the word “Zen.”
Sophisticated in its amplitude and brilliantly produced, the best experience of this album is through headphones or earbuds. This allows you to pick up on and take in all of the intricately woven beats, subtleties, and nuances that are essential to this experience.
A journey through dimensions, each song is an “I am” kind of affirmation, a mantra; a multi-dimensional mantra that awakens a vivid soundscape in the listener.
Track 6, “I Am Grateful For,” is my favorite track on the album. Here we have soothing strings and elements of electronica, developing into a light, exquisite melody, and ultimately melting into an ultra-gorgeous soundscape to get lost in. And this is right in the middle of the “urban,” the beat which never gets obscured throughout the entire album. We know it’s there. We are aware of it through the subtleties. Yet one can literally feel their own oneness, and at the same time a sense of being connected to all. Yes, very “Zen.”
My second favorite track on “Urban Metta, Volume 1,” is track 7, “I Am Lighthearted. “ This is a spatial, otherworldly track that put me in the “zone” straight away. You feel like you’re in space. You’re light and floating free, yet not lost by any means. This sense of “light,” or “being light,” interestingly, is experienced in multi-dimensional ways. For example, while I was listening to this track, I felt as if the room was filled with little particles of light. And you have a sense at the same time that maybe you can see the light or maybe you are one with the light. I like it. Very relaxing.
Rating: Excellent
Rainbow Road by Nancy Shoop-Wu
- posted by Candice Michelle on 3/10/2017
Nancy Shoop-Wu - Rainbow Road
Nancy Shoop-Wu is a composer and violinist originally from Connecticut who resides in Hawaii. As a member of the Honolulu Symphony she has shared the stage with many notable Hawaiian musicians, as well as superstars such as Yo-Yo Ma and Bela Fleck. Rainbow Road is Nancy’s second release and first full-length album, having previously released a debut EP titled Beautiful Mana’o. Comprised of twelve compositions spanning forty-nine minutes, Nancy combines both classical and contemporary musical styles while additionally drawing inspiration from the surrounding natural beauty and culture of the Hawaiian Islands. Joining her throughout are several guest musicians, of which include Derek Nakamoto on acoustic piano and keyboards, both Jan O’Sullivan and Jeff Peterson on Hawaiian slack key guitar, Dean Taba on acoustic bass, Garin Poliahu on drums, Satnam Ramgotra on frame drum, and Holo’ua Stender on Ipu drum.

The album opens with the title track, “Rainbow Road”, on which solo piano introduces a gentle ensemble of acoustic bass and Hawaiian slack key guitar led by Nancy’s beautiful violin. She plays a tenderly warm melody evocative of the soft radiance of a rising sun. “Pulelehua (Mountain Butterfly)” follows next, an especially lovely composition that conveys the tranquil essence of the Pacific Ocean along with surrounding greenery and colorful blossoms. Distinguished by graceful piano and violin, the piece flows along in a gently swaying motion, recalling that of a small boat sailing out at sea. The fourth track, “Sunrise Over Haleiwa”, is another notable highlight beginning with a repeating piano motif, as Nancy’s gently soulful violin soars above an earthy accompaniment of drums. The seventh track, “Walmanalo”, is likewise rhythmic and moderately-paced, boasting a joyfully spirited violin melody accompanied by an ensemble of piano, cymbals and drums. Nancy lends her own vocals to the eighth track, “Carry Me Home”, on which she sings a lyrically heartfelt and down-to-earth melody in a tone that’s sweet and simple.

Included on the album are three bonus tracks taken from Nancy’s previous debut EP. The first of these is the ninth track on the album, “Beautiful Mana’o”, which includes both Ipu and frame drums that add a subtle tribal touch. On the eleventh track, “Ma’Noa Rain”, acoustic guitar comes to the forefront in tandem with an impassioned violin melody that’s additionally graced by delicate brushes of piano.

Conveying a warmly heart-centric vibe, Nancy gently serenades her listeners throughout with her soothing yet passionate violin melodies, as she plays with an ease of grace and authenticity of spirit. The varying ensemble of instruments are nicely spaced and easy to individually discern from one another, mostly conveying a consistent mood without much stylistic divergence among the compositions. In fact, one could easily imagine hearing these elegantly uplifting pieces playing at a beautifully decorated, leisurely outdoor café or retreat. A delightfully positive, peaceful listening experience overall, Rainbow Road unfolds like a welcome invitation to embark along a pathway illuminated by dreams, hopes and promises! ~Candice Michelle (Journeyscapesradio.com)
Rating: Very Good +
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