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Album Review: Morning
Mike Strickland
Cover image of the album Morning by Mike Strickland
Mike Strickland
2023 / MSP Records
56 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Morning is the twenty-third album from pianist/composer/arranger Mike Strickland. An incredibly versatile artist, the thirteen tracks on the album are a combination of original pieces (9) and arrangements (4) of popular classics and standards reinterpreted in Mike's unique style; all but two of the tracks are solo piano. Born and raised in Mississippi, Mike grew up exposed to many of the great blues and jazz musicians and developed a style all his own. Since then, he has become one of the musical treasures of the Pacific Northwest. It's been quite a while since Mike released a new album, so reviewing Morning has been a real treat!

Morning begins with the title track, a piece Mike plays every morning in a variety of keys "as it soothes my soul and is also a great warm up piece for the hands." Warm, peaceful and full of grace, the music oozes optimism and contentment - a wonderful way to start the day (in any key!)! "Sunset Serenade" was inspired by a left-hand motif that mimics a Spanish classical guitarist. Gently rhythmic and decidedly romantic, love is in the air! Leonard Cohen's classic "Hallelujah" is one of my favorite songs - with and without the lyrics. Mike's arrangement has a kind of theme-and-variations format that includes passionate blues, a touch of Floyd Cramer (country piano), an elegant classical style, and more - a great arrangement of a great song! "Colorado Morning" was inspired "while playing an older Steinway piano with the east sun streaming through a beautiful picture window." Gently flowing with a sense of purpose, it's a very soothing piece! Mike arranged the venerable "Canon in D" (Pachelbel) for a Whisperings Solo Piano concert in 2018 (I was there!) and includes nineteen variations on the theme that range from soft and delicate to full-on blues. Mike composed his first piece, "The Western Song," back in 1972 and included it on this album. Influenced by Aaron Copland and some of the composers for movie westerns, I hear some Floyd Cramer in this one, too! "Over the Rainbow" and "Eidelweiss" are iconic songs, and Mike gives them both a refreshing make-over with a variety of graceful styles. "A Little Moment" is a lovely waltz tinged with romance and a bit of magic - delightful! "Holding the Light" is more orchestrated and is about standing in grace with the strength to inspire others - a very effective anthem! "Prayer For the Children" is a loving musical expression of Mike's wish "for all children across the world to live in freedom and happiness." Slow, uncomplicated, and deeply heartfelt, it's one of the highlights of the album. The second orchestrated piece, "Revelation," overflows with feelings of hope and clarity. The album concludes with "Open Sky," "a bit of a hymn. It says Space. And Peace." The tempo is relaxed and easy, but the emotional impact is deep and very sincere.

Morning is a truly exceptional album and is available from Mike's website (CDs and sheet music for some of the pieces are available there), Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and streaming platforms including Spotify. Very highly recommended!
December 30, 2023