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Album Review: Once Upon a Summer
James Michael Stevens
Cover image of the album Once Upon a Summer by James Michael Stevens
Once Upon a Summer
James Michael Stevens
2024 / James M Stevens Music
28 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Once Upon a Summer is the seventh album for the year (with more on the way!) from James Michael Stevens; it is also his fifth solo piano album so far in 2024. With a staggering 7555 songbooks and sheet music for sale on SheetMusicPlus.com (today, anyway!), Dr. Stevens is the most prolific composer on that site - including all of the classical greats (and not-so-greats!)! In addition to his non-stop composing, Dr. Stevens is the Dean of the School of Music at Welch College in Gallatin, Tennessee - a very busy man to be sure! This is the twenty-ninth album of James' music that I've reviewed since 2019, plus twenty-one of his solo piano sheet music books, so I'm very familiar with his original music. While they are not overly complicated, his heartfelt pieces are easy to relax or study with and can provide very pleasant background music, but they are also very easy to listen to with focus while enjoying the feelings and images that the music evokes.

Once Upon a Summer begins with "Candlelight Coasterra," a slow, dreamy piece that suggests a romantic dinner by candlelight - perhaps at a restaurant by the ocean. Warm and contented, it's a beautiful start! "Summer Wind" is a bit more unsettled with just a touch of mystery. "Riverside" perfectly describes the refreshing enjoyment of a summer afternoon by a river. I can just see beams of sunlight dancing on the surface of the water as it flows gently but steadily to an unknown destination. Many pieces of music have been composed over the years celebrating the songs of birds. James' "The Lark" alternates between a happy major key and a more melancholy minor key, creating a lovely portrait of an active songbird. Flowing broken chords create a gentle, elegant portrait of the "Falls at Catalonia." One of my favorite tracks on the album, the pace is relaxed and unhurried while the melody is bittersweet. Winter tides at the ocean can get pretty wild, but "Summer Tides" are usually much quieter with fewer extremes. The piece with that title is very serene and peaceful. I really like this one, too! "Sebago Lake" was inspired by the deepest and second-largest lake in the state of Maine, and James' musical portrait is one of calm beauty with gentle undulations and sparkling sunlight on deep blue waters. "Lonesome Lullaby" was created in a slow waltz time and has a very poignant feeling that touches the heart. "Melancholique" seems to be looking inward and reflecting, perhaps missing someone or working out a bit of inner turmoil. "Serenade at Sunset Park" continues in a quiet, pensive mood and brings the album to a soothing close.

Once Upon a Summer is available digitally from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and many streaming platforms including Spotify. The sheet music is also available from SheetMusicPlus.com and SheetMusicDirect.com.
June 21, 2024
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