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Memoirs by Michele McLaughlin
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 7/9/2019
A truly delicious album
Michele describes her latest release Memoirs as a collection of 12 solo piano pieces that she had released as singles over an 18 month period, each track has its own individual story and this is therefore the musical voyage we are to undertake right now.
We begin with the up-tempo and radiant offering Thankful, this one bounces along and its vibrant nature and ebullient energies literally flow all around us as we listen, this has to be the perfect track to begin the release with.
One of my early favourites is the delightfully pretty Pure Joy; here we have a track with a masterful melody and one that at times reminds me of Elton John in content and composition. The fluent nature of this track and the exciting intensity it created for me was a thrill to listen to; I do so adore the major minor combination.
Dark Moon is a horse of a different colour entirely, short form in structure, but never the less so beautifully graphic in its content and energy, this is also a deeply moving and emotional composition, one can really feel a state of deep reflection burning to be set free from this offering.
As we move forever onward we come across a piece called Triumph. This one has all the hall marks of an anthem and has that film score arrangement about its construction. This is a delightful opus to listen to and one also has to add that the performance here is simply sparkling with every note played.
On Little Love we are gifted one of the most attractive compositions from the release, McLaughlin plays with such a charming level of tenderness on this track that you won’t fail to be wooed by its beauty. This track has a smoothness of tempo that is so crafted and cleverly performed it is a pleasure to listen to.
As I move to the piece My Life With You, it’s easy for me to glance to my left and watch my lovely wife just sitting there, her radiance fills my heart with such joy. For me this piece says all that and more, it’s a musical expression of appreciation and the gratitude of being able to share a life with someone you love so deeply, one has to also add that McLaughlin has created it with such a gentle hand on the keys, this piece is literally bursting with love.
The next offering is incredibly interesting to jump into and called Beneath The Surface. This is played with an incredible awareness of creation and McLaughlin’s skill set brings us something quite mystical, it is as if we are literally swimming in a crystal clear sea and discovering all manner of new and wondrous things, this is one of those pieces you could listen to many times over and hear something special each time you do so.
For any of us that have suffered that terrible feeling of being Alone, then this track will resonate somewhere within you, this is a deeply moving piece and brought back memories to me of those times when I was so low and down it was almost impossible to look up and see the sky. The performance on this composition is some of the best work I have ever heard the artist play; her performance is full of memory, sadness and aloneness, this is clearly played with her heart firmly on her sleeve.
Winter is a strange season, it is the face of death and its dour seasonal cloak of grey seems to shroud the landscape for an eternity, but there is always the hope of spring! Here McLaughlin paints with her piano a track that is quite moody and dark, one that illustrates this tough season perfectly. The arrangement and performance style once again borders on being film score standard, the creational talents of the pianist here is exceptional and masterfully creative.
I so wish I could one day see the Northern Lights. The Aurora Borealis is an enigma unto itself, starting and ending as a flicker of colourful lights, this show in the skies is beautifully played on one of the most dramatic pieces off the album. McLaughlin is in full flow here and brings us one her finest performance’s, one that made me think that perhaps this may indeed be a fan favourite one day, it would be an amazing piece to see played live.
Our penultimate offering is surely something the entire planet has to embrace, just drop the fear and hate and give yourself fully to Peace. Once more the artist has manifested a composition that is anthem like in its construction; it raises the energy, uplifts the soul, and musically gives us something we all need in our search, hope!
Our last musical gift from the artist is called Dismissed, for me I found this a fascinating offering and one that had a slight European feel to it. One could easily listen to this piece and imagine the streets of say Paris, and gaze at the lonely people, who wander from town to town in search of work and find nothing but rejection and of course that leads to despair. This is a dramatic performance from Michele McLaughlin, and one that highlights her outstanding talents as a pianist with aplomb.
Personally I rate Memoirs as McLaughlin’s best work to date, Life was a delicious album, but I think that this even tops that. The release is packed with innovative musical compositions that illustrate what an abundant 18 month period it has indeed been for the pianist, she has now added, with a certain sensitivity of performance, an ability to enthral the listener with many moods and that wonderfully multi-talented approach can be heard within the confines of this new album and it is simply magical. This is truly an album you are really going to want to add to your ever growing musical collections, whether you are fans of the solo piano genre or just lovers of really good music.
Rating: Excellent
Altiplano by Ciro Hurtado
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 6/12/2019
Technically brilliant, beautifully crafted
I have been an admirer of the work of Peruvian guitarist Ciro Hurtado for a few years now and with the release of his brand new album Altiplano, we have the delightful prospect of going on another wondrous musical journey with the artist.
The lively start is a real scene setter called Macchu Picchu; this is one of the top most spiritual places on the planet and has been on my bucket list for many years. Hurtado’s beautiful performance on guitar really takes us to that mountain and the 15th century Incan citadel, and with the added instrumentation, it all makes for a really fun and exciting start to the album and of course our musical sojourn.
The title track is up next, Altiplano, this means high plain in Spanish and a more lush and colourful performance on guitar you will not hear. This is that magical empty canvas called the title track, one that Hurtado has so masterfully and musically painted on, and thus drawn such a beautiful portrait of sound and tone whilst doing so. With the close knit work on the flute, Hurtado’s guitar has manifested something truly remarkable; this would be one of my personal favourites from the release.
We now move to the piece Rumba Andina, the familiar pipes are there and match Hurtado’s work perfectly, and his guitar seems to resonate right across the mountains. Within this piece there is a really charming narrative of movement, almost dance like and playful at the same time, this is a truly charming offering, one that will no doubt be a bit of a fans favourite, it is a wonderfully lively composition that draws a memorable energy that will stay in the musical heart for a long time, you we also revel in the amazing vocals from Ciro’s wife Cindy too.
Our journey of musical beauty finds us at the portal of a really masterful performance on guitar by the artist, it is called Ciudad Del Lago. This was originally a song, but now arranged as a solo guitar piece, one I may add as a guitarist myself, is played with such a superb style and standard of performance, almost classical at times and technically outstanding in all moments, now this is how to really play guitar.
What is so very pleasurable about this album is the length of the tracks; we have well over six minutes of utter enjoyment now as we reside within the musical halls of this next offering called El Ayaymama. Sung in Spanish by vocalist Alexa Ramirez, we are gifted my stand out piece off the album, the vocals were sensitive and beautifully sung, but Hurtado’s performance on guitar was beyond anything I have heard for the last few decades and made this track my all-time favourite off the album.
The artist is at his very best on this next offering too, gifting us a composition called Andean Heart. A lush cross classical, new age styled guitar track demands our attention now; one has to literally admire the beautiful fluency of his performances. There is almost a symbiotic sense of composition here as well, seemingly to blend in styles of both regional music with a western twist, and one done so cleverly, with such style and panache it has to be said.
This exciting and vibrant new collection of stunning songs by Ciro Hurtado continues now with a track called Recuerdos. The singer on this offering is Mariel Henry of the Mexican band Chejere and forms a beautiful musical relationship with the artist as they produce a song filled full of colour and rhythm, interestingly enough this piece reminds me of the regional music here in Cyprus, but perhaps more sensitive in composition.
We now move into the deeper waters of the album and come across another solo piece called Entre Las Estrellas. The translation means between the stars and here we have yet one more example why Hurtado is rated as one of the best world guitarists of his generation. Take time to sit in silence and listen to this one, it is idyllic and beautifully played, perhaps setting the scene perfectly for a night time meditation.
Our penultimate offering is called Triste, a composition that is true to its roots and gives us the perfect combination of flutes and guitar that go to make up an almost sad and mournful opus. This for me sounds like the music from a film soundtrack, one that has a real sense of emotion and an imploring energy about its construction.
So we find ourselves at the last portal to this musical dimension and the track in question is called House of The Rising Sun, if you have never heard of this piece, where have you been for the last 50 years? Most versions I have heard have been rock ones, but this is the first really chilled version that now resides in my musical vaults and is superb, Hurtado has ended the album in such a clever way, with an absolute classic.
There can be no doubt that Ciro Hurtado is at the front of all that is good in the realm of the world and global fusion genre, and personally for me I rate this album to be the best he has created thus far. Altiplano is fresh, vibrant and rustic, it’s an album that gives you all you would expect from the artist, but much more. Technically brilliant, beautifully crafted and wonderfully produced, if this release isn’t a big hit, there is no justice in the world.
Rating: Excellent
Storyteller by Secret Garden
- posted by John Iverson on 6/11/2019
Another Stunning Recording!
My initial reaction upon hearing this new album from Secret Garden was again a resounding WOW!!

Storyteller by Secret Garden is comprised of entirely new material, with ten of the thirteen tracks being instrumental. This album sees a return to the format of most of their past releases after an album of mostly previously released material scored for violin and piano, a live album, and a compilation album. Rolf Lovland wrote and arranged all of the pieces, and also penned the lyrics for the three vocal selections. Of particular note on this recording is the inclusion of four pieces that Rolf Lovland wrote as part of a new musical he scored called "The Pilot", which he arranged as instrumentals for this new album. This is music is as beautiful as you will ever experience!

Fionnuala Sherry and Rolf Lovland sound as incredible as ever, performing with unparalleled talent, expression and passion, which is what we have come to expect from them. The band members of Secret Garden are once again top-notch, very capably complementing the soloists with their stellar musicianship and ardent passion for the music. Plus the performance of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Rolf Lovland is breathtaking. And for the three vocal selections included you could not ask for more capable singers than the heartfelt tenor Brian Kennedy, the beautiful soprano Cathrine Iversen, and the emotive Espen Grjotheim.

This heartwarming ensemble has once again created an amazing treasure trove of musical delights comprised of beautiful melodies that evoke a kaleidoscope of images and emotions. It is difficult to pick a favourite among these thirteen gems, but of particular note for me personally are Beyond the Blue, Open Doors, One More Chance, Nostalgia and End of a Journey. This album contains both slow, melancholic works that will soothe your soul, and faster upbeat tunes, all of them coloured by the Norwegian and Irish backgrounds of the two main performers.

All in all a superb album from this ensemble that has been going strong for almost twenty five years! If this is the first Secret Garden album you experience, you will surely end up wanting to have all of the others too. But if you are a diehard Secret Garden fan like I am then this is another stunning addition to your collection.
Rating: Excellent
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