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The Sounding Board by R J Lannan
RJ Lannan is the reviewer for The Sounding Board.
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By Michele McLaughlin
Label: Michele McLaughlin Music
Released 2/10/2017
Life tracks
1. The Gift
2. The Storm
3. At Home
4. Life
5. Belonging
6. A Deeper Understanding
7. Drifting Through a Dream
8. Heartbroken
9. Stronger
10. Precious Memories
11. Crossroads
12. Guilty Pleasures
13. Give It Time
An Artist's Self-Portrait
Contemporary pianist Michele McLaughlin has the innate ability to transform her feelings into music. It is the kind of alchemy that is not as common as you would think. She can add color and hue, volume and undertones, power and passion and it comes out sounding like a rainbow. Her latest album is called appropriately, Life. Although Miss McLaughlin is young, she has a lot of life experience to draw from. Some events are exhilarating while others are unhappy. But you take the good with the bad in Life, the album that is. Fortunately, there is no bad to be found in this music. The album is thirteen solo piano pieces that build up your daydreams. Let them flow.

The recording opens with the song The Gift. After listening, I decided that the title itself is a musical eponym. Life is such a gift and one that often can be lost at any given time. Michele celebrates the very joy of this gift. The solo piano song is rhythmic and graceful as if a page is turned, or better yet, a new chapter begins.

In the tune The Storm McLaughlin uses the lower register to create the ambivalence of the tempest. I heard the anger in that day. The clouds formed thick and heavy, the rain unrelenting. Life is full of stormy days. We can choose to hide or to ride them out with faith, love, or determination or, a combination of all.

Life, the title tune is most memorable. The theme fluid and emotional. Quite expected. But the range of emotions is quiet startling. There is the sense of bittersweet sadness, uphill struggle, quiet despair and a terse feeling of hope. This is one of the best tracks on the album, although I liked them all.

In my mind I was watching a television show. The music of Belonging came on as the show opened. By the music alone with its warmth and promising tone, it felt like something I'd like to watch again. In it are caring people, loving people. The characters have a sense of place, a point that they always return to in times of strife or times of happiness. Home. In his poem The Death of the Hired Man, Robert Frost wrote "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in," only this time you belong in all ways possible.

If inconsolable pain can be translated into notes, than Michele has accomplished her objective on the song Heartbroken. Heart break take many forms; loss, betrayal, loneliness and despair. After all, sadness is a one way street. In this song Michele's music flows over the mind like water, plunging, immersing, drenching us in pathos. There is no triumph at the end of the song, only a realization that sadness can turn to grief.

Crossroads was another favorite. It starts out with a dark and somber intro and it is as it should be. Uncertainty can breed doubt, doubt ferments suspicion and right back to uncertainty. The music lets us know that we cannot go back on the road we just traveled, so we must make a choice.

Michele surprised me in the final cut, Give it Time. It definitely had a trace of Ludovico Einaudi in the mix and I loved it for that. Michele put maximum passion in the finish and it held up dramatically. Time heals all wounds, but not always. The period between realization and healing can feel like an eternity, but it has to be endured. Great tune.

Michele McLaughlin continues to delight me with every album she creates. Her music gets more poignant, her compositions continue to be on point and her delivery is first rate. She is one of the preeminent purveyors of contemporary solo piano music and it looks to me like she is just getting started.
Rating: Very Good +   Very Good +
- reviewed by RJ Lannan on 7/6/2017
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