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Album Review: Undercurrent
Michele McLaughlin
Cover image of the album Undercurrent by Michele McLaughlin
Michele McLaughlin
2015 / Michele McLaughlin
46 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Undercurrent is the fifteenth solo piano release from Michele McLaughlin in as many years, and I am always re-amazed with each new album at how far she has come as a pianist and composer over the years. Her first few albums were recorded on a digital piano and although she still records at home, she now composes and records on a Fazioli F212 concert grand. What a difference and what an amazing piano! Mastered and engineered by Joe Bongiorno (Piano Haven Studio), the piano sound is rich, warm, and very expressive. The album was inspired by Plato’s quote: “Always be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle,” and the music is reflective of several of McLaughlin’s own battles as well as many wonderful moments from the past two years. The thirteen tracks vary in style and mood from serene and peaceful to joyful, turbulent, and pensive. Fellow pianists will be excited to learn that there is a companion songbook for this album available in hard copy or download, as individual pieces and as books with all thirteen songs.

Undercurrent begins with “11,000 Miles,” a buoyant and carefree piece inspired by the two-month, 11,000 mile concert tour McLaughlin did with Scott D. Davis in 2013. Light-hearted and quickly-flowing, it clearly expresses the joy of sharing music and the adventure of traveling to new places. Although much more subdued, “Living In Awe” conveys a different kind of joy. The first piece McLaughlin composed after moving to her mountainside home, it conveys her contentment and happiness in her new environment. “The Space Between” is one of my favorites. Quite a bit darker than the first few tracks, it reflects on the distance between Michele and her sister since moving about ten miles away after being neighbors for many years. Strong feelings of loss and sadness run through the piece, made dramatic with an active left hand at the lower end of the piano and a very poignant melody. I also really like the title track, which is also on the dark and powerful side, thinking about the battles everyone must face and deal with no matter how bright and sunny their lives appear to be. “Starstuff” returns to a much lighter mood, and was inspired by Carl Sagan’s quote “We are all made from starstuff.” Passages are played in the upper registers of the piano and sound to me like the twinkle of stars in a dark sky. “Never Give Up” is encouragement without words and a reminder that no matter how difficult times may seem, there is always beauty in life and light at the end of the tunnel. “Melody In Motion” is a lively minor key waltz that expresses how McLaughlin feels when she composes and the excitement when a new piece begins to emerge from her fingertips. “Stepping Stones” is a heartfelt, pensive piece about the paths we take in life based on the decisions we make. “Synesthesia” brings the album to a close with a piece composed on a rainy day on the road. Although lively and energetic, there is a moody cast to the piece that gives it a very soulful quality that I really like.

Undercurrent adds several new chapters to the autobiography that is Michele McLaughlin’s musical output. Deeply personal yet universal and very accessible, it brings together so much of life’s shared experience, reminding us how interconnected we all are. Undercurrent is available from michelemclaughlin.com, Amazon and iTunes. Recommended!
February 23, 2015
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