My first exposure to Michele McLaughlin’s music was her 2006 release, Christmas - Plain & Simple. I love that album and was very excited to hear that she was releasing Christmas - Plain & Simple II
. Sequels can be a little dangerous, but this one is a knock-out! Like the first album, II is solo piano and has fifteen tracks - five originals and ten traditional Christmas songs. McLaughlin’s arrangements are distinctive and compelling, but not so different that they will spoil the enjoyment for traditionalists who don’t like their Christmas music “messed with” too much. Most of the songs are on the contemplative side, but there are a few upbeat toe-tappers as well. Most also contain improvised passages that make the interpretations even more personal and unique.
The album begins with a sweet arrangement of “O Christmas Tree” that keeps the melody simple accompanied by a gently rolling left hand. A lovely improvisation in the middle adds color and originality to this holiday favorite. The more contemporary “Little Drummer Boy” is one of my favorite arrangements. The simple innocence of the melody truly makes it sound like the story is being told by a child. The ancient “O Come Emmanuel” is dark, somber, and incredibly beautiful. “Christmas Cheer” is the first of the original compositions. Graceful and soft-spoken, it’s like a warm holiday hug. “Deck the Halls” is a spritely waltz, full of fun and good cheer. “Midwinter Memories” is another original piece. Very dark and pensive, it reflects the more serious side of the holidays. “Carol of the Bells” takes on high energy and intensity - another favorite! “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella” is bright and lively, dancing lightly on the piano keyboard. “I Saw Three Ships/Pat-a-pan” is also a favorite. Played at a very quick tempo, there is a charming Irish spirit to this medley. “Did Santa Come?” has an innocent and magical quality - much like a child sneaking around Christmas morning to see if Santa has come. “Melancholy Snowfall” tops my list of favorites. Heartbreakingly sad and breathtakingly beautiful - it is absolutely haunting. The flowing left hand on “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” gives it a contemporary feel while staying true to the original. The album closes with the lively “The Littlest Snow Angel,” a happy dance that ends this wonderful collection with a smile and a twinkle. Brava, Michele!
Christmas - Plain & Simple II
will be a bright addition to anyone’s holiday music collection. I give it my highest recommendation! It’s available from michelemclaughlin.com
, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby.