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Album Review: Christmas - Plain & Simple III
Michele McLaughlin
Cover image of the album Christmas - Plain & Simple III by Michele McLaughlin
Christmas - Plain & Simple III
Michele McLaughlin
2017 / Michele McLaughlin
35 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Christmas - Plain & Simple III is Michele McLaughlin’s third solo piano Christmas album and is being released ten years after the first one (II was released in 2010). I’ve always enjoyed the simple honesty of Michele’s Christmas arrangements and the way she allows the melodies to sing without being overly embellished while still retaining her distinctive style. The twelve tracks on this album include one original. There is a nice balance to the combination of sacred and secular carols, serious and playful moods, and the inclusion of a few songs that we don’t hear too often. I also need to mention that the cover artwork by Matt Strieby is stunning! And, the companion solo piano songbook will be available soon!

Christmas - Plain & Simple III begins with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” It starts slowly with an air of sentimentality, but gradually lightens and increases speed to become joyful and spirited. “Good King Wenceslas” is an ancient carol, and this one starts out with the simple melody and lots of pedal to make it sound like it is echoing in a large hall or castle. After the first verse, it becomes a lively and playful waltz that dances and swirls to the end - a favorite! “What Child Is This?” is graceful and lyrical with a gorgeous interlude in the middle. “The Holly and The Ivy” is another very old carol made new again with a different rhythmic pattern and an original interlude in the middle. “In The Bleak Midwinter” is a carol I used to see in a lot of books of Christmas carols, but never heard. Over the past ten years or so, it has become a staple on instrumental recordings and Michele’s arrangement is a beauty! “Sing We Now of Christmas” is a traditional French carol that dates back to the 15th century. The minor key melody is dark and haunting, and Michele’s arrangement is beautiful and heartfelt. I was surprised that her arrangement of “Jingle Bells” is actually slow and reflective rather than quick and joyous. It’s a really nice way to focus on the melody (which was originally a Thanksgiving song!). “Up On the Housetop” returns to a playful style and childlike innocence. Her quiet treatment of “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” at the beginning makes me think of a shy child, but as the piece evolves, it becomes somewhat livelier - a very sweet arrangement! “Christmas Canon” is an adaptation of Pachelbel’s “Canon.” Michele’s version is much “bigger” and quicker than you usually hear it - and also more fun. “O Come All Ye Faithful” is a Christmas standard, but Michele has made it her own with a lively tempo and a playful attitude - very fun to play as well as to hear! Michele’s own “Peace” is a quiet, calming close to this festive holiday album. Slow and uncomplicated, it brings images of snow drifting silently through the trees at night.

Christmas Plain & Simple III would be a wonderful addition to your Christmas festivities for years to come. It is available from www.MicheleMcLaughlin.com, Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Recommended!
November 19, 2017
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Holiday AlbumsHoliday Albums: 2017Kathy's Picks