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Album Review: July
James Michael Stevens
Cover image of the album July by James Michael Stevens
James Michael Stevens
2021 / James M Stevens Music
43 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
July is part of a continuing series by pianist/composer James Michael Stevens with an album named for each month of the year. This one consists of fifteen original piano solos that are pensive and reflective as well as soothing and relaxing to listen to. (One of the fifteen pieces has some synth embellishment, but the other fourteen are solo piano.) The album is expressive and often poignant, making it well-suited to background music for special dinners, studying, quiet evenings and just about any easy-going activity that can be enhanced with some beautiful piano music that doesn't demand a lot of focused attention to enjoy. The music is also very enjoyable and calming when you listen with full attention!

One of the most prolific composers around, Dr. James Michael Stevens is also Chairperson of the Music Department at Welch College in Gallatin, Tennessee. With well over 500 recorded pieces on Pandora and 5818 items on SheetMusicPlus.com (both numbers have likely gone up since I wrote this!), there is no slowing down his very impressive output!

July begins with "In My Summer Dreams," a gentle daydream of a piece that is warm and welcoming like a musical hug. "Sunflower Waltz" is sure to bring a smile along with images of sunflowers nodding their heads in an afternoon breeze. "Silver Canvas" is one of my favorites. A hypnotic series of smoothly rolling broken chords run throughout the piece and make me think of sunlight dancing on the ripples on a lake or pond. The opening couple of measures of "Yellow Roses" remind me of MacDowell's "To A Wild Rose," but then it changes for the rest of the piece. Slow, graceful and full of longing, it's another favorite. "Sacred Realms" is my favorite piece on both the album and to play from the songbook. Keyboard string washes are a lovely addition to piano on the recording, making the piece even more soothing and calm. It's a beauty! "The Mystery of Love" has a melody strong enough to support lyrics, although they certainly aren't needed to get the point across - a heartfelt ballad! "Once in a Purple Sky" is one of those pieces that is so smooth and dreamy that you just can't help but sigh and think of something pleasant! Very open and free, "Dusk" captures the feeling that comes as evening approaches and the world starts to slow down for the night. "Nocturne Elegy" closes the album with another favorite. Traditionally, a "nocturne" is a "night song" and an "elegy" is composed in honor of someone's death. This piece is dark and carries very strong feelings of sadness and loss. And it's incredibly beautiful!

July is available to download and/or stream from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and more. There is also a companion sheet music collection that I have really enjoyed playing! It can be downloaded on SheetMusicPlus.com.
September 10, 2021
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