Piano-Heaven Award Winner:

Out of the Darkness

 

Michele McLaughlin

 2010

www.michelemclaughlin.com

 

 

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I knew I had to purchase this CD when I came to realise that both my favourite track on the 2011 compilation album ‘Whisperings: Solo Piano Volume 1’ (‘Irish Rain’) and my other favourite track on its 2009 sister album download, ‘Relaxing Piano Artists for Alzheimer's Research’ entitled ‘Lament’ were by the same artist: Michele McLaughlin. Seeing that Michele had a new album out, I decided to take the plunge and it was certainly a decision I have not regretted.

The first thing that struck me upon receipt of the CD, was the beautiful artwork. Artists sometimes overlook this, but hats off to Michele and designer Matt Strieby at ‘Newleaf Design’. It is simply stunning. The front cover features shafts of light piercing through the trees, and is clearly symbolic of the album's title. Inside, there are comprehensive notes about each track, which from a listener's point of view is much appreciated. I enjoy learning more about the origins of each piece. More impressive photography is contained within, and the attention to detail is second to none. Even the back cover of the insert connects to the image underneath where the CD would normally be located. It is quite simply one of the most impressive album designs in my entire collection.

This, of course, would be wasted if the music disappointed, but the reality is the music on this album is top-notch. ‘Out of the Darkness’ is a deeply personal album chronicling Michele's marriage break-up, which clearly and quite understandably was a very turbulent time in the artist's life. The pianist's journey through the pain and out the other end is captured here, and I can honestly say I don't think I have ever heard such a heart-felt CD. Michele has channelled her energies into this project, and I imagine that the composition and recording process has been a great healer to this very gifted musician.

The album opens with ‘Forsaken’ which Michele explains captures the terrible argument and the moment her ex announced he was leaving. The piece begins innocuously enough; all is calm- but that all soon changes with a quickening tempo and lively dynamics. As the piece concludes, it slows right down as the reality sinks in, and a huge part of her life has come to an abrupt end.

‘The Descent’ chronicles Michele's depression after her husband had left. This is a mournful piece; the listener can feel the hurt in the music. It ends on a more upbeat note; an early indicator that in a crisis we pull through; we do survive, and Michele is no exception.

The CD's third track is entitled ‘Indignation’. Michele explains that the piece captures how for a long time she felt incredibly angry and resentful at what had happened. Perhaps it is wrong of me to say this, but I actually find it a beautiful piece- yes, with some low notes suggesting all is not well, but maybe the healing process had already begun as this was being written.

‘Forbearance’ is another heart-felt piece, achingly sad in parts with hints of optimism- intentionally or not. Michele explains how this piece captures the moment she resigned herself to the unwelcome reality that her marriage was indeed over. As with all the other tracks, this is a melodic piece, and it is clear to this reviewer that Michele has an absolute gift for melody.

Track five, 'Out of the Darkness’ has a sense of "get up and go" about it. This is a more optimistic number, capturing how no matter how bad things might be, life goes on, and there is definitely an air of optimism about this piece. I am sure it is more than just co-incidence that the the album's first four tracks are described by Michele on a separate dark, rather ominous and foreboding page, and this track description is on a fresh, brighter page alongside a brilliant sunshine and Spring leaves. Another example of the thought, care and attention to detail that has gone into the entire album process.

What can I say about track six, ‘So Long, Mr. Selfish’ other than it is good to get these things off your chest! Michele throws caution to the wind here in a flurry of high-tempo notes. This is an angry song, and it was her friend Jennifer who suggested she "let rip" as we call it here in England. As Michele herself recognises, there is a fun element to the piece; a cacophony of notes in discord this is definitely not! There is certainly plenty of energy in this track, and the piece takes two spots on the album- the first in solo-piano form, and the second... well, that will have to wait so as not to spoil the surprise!

‘Transformation’ perfectly captures the period where hurt and anger are slowly replaced with a more positive frame of mind and outlook. It's quite a busy piece, and represents how Michele kept herself busy, reorganising, cleaning, sorting as she did exactly the same things in her own life. What a beautiful ending to this piece! I feel it captures the moment where after all the ensuing activity, she stops for a moment and reflects.

Onto track eight, and this is another high-tempo piece. The healing process is never an easy one, and the track captures the frustrations inflicted by the many obstacles that stand in the way as she tried to move forward with her life. The sense of frustration is palpable, but ultimately the composition ends on an optimistic note as the obstacles are overcome one by one. 

‘Finding Solace in Friends’ is a happy piece, and this sense of joy is brought on by the comfort that only good friends can bring. In times of crisis, friendship is of utmost importance, and Michele can count herself lucky that she had such good acquaintances to help her through the dark times and out the other side. There is a lovely positive feel to this short but delightful piece.

The upbeat mood continues with ‘New Light’ which, as the title would suggest, captures the joyous feeling felt by Michele when she realised that the worst was over. In her linear notes, she recalls how she awoke one morning with an overwhelming sense of joy. Nature played its part; "I looked out of my window and it was a beautiful day, sunshine illuminating the world outside. At that moment I felt so alive," she writes. The piece reflects the gentle start of the day, and working in parallel, the beginning of a new chapter in her life.

‘In the Stillness of Peace’ has a lullaby feel to it at the start, and is a deeply reflective track as Michele looks back on her life. As the composition develops, the mood becomes more optimistic again. It is another lovely piece.

The penultimate track, ‘Rejoice’, is a highly melodic and beautifully crafted piece. Michele explains, "This song portrays such a profound sense of happiness to me. It reminds me of my struggle, that I never thought I'd survive, and of how much has changed and can happen in the span of a year. This song, to me, is the ultimate song of gratitude and celebration." I particularly love both the beginning and end to this piece, and it brings the solo-piano part of this CD to a gorgeous conclusion.

Oh, how I adore the Bonus Track, a second outing for "So Long, Mr. Selfish", but this time orchestrated and with not a piano in sight. It is orchestrated by Glen Gabriel (take a bow, young man) and captures all the anger of the earlier incarnation, but even more so- especially with the addition of the choir at the end, bringing the main section to a dramatic conclusion before the piece concludes on an achingly beautiful but very sombre note as the awful reality has set in. A dilemma for me was whether or not to mention this, but I shall go for it! Having listened to this CD dozens of times in the car in preparation for reviewing this album, a strange thing occurred. I found myself adding vocals to the chorus: two words of three syllables each time, followed by four words of seven syllables. What these words are, I have to keep to myself, but let's just say I hope that none of the passing motorists travelling in the other direction were lip-readers...

I cannot praise this CD highly enough. It is simply wonderful, and I love it from beginning to end. It is somewhat ironic that in a time of great crisis, Michele McLaughlin has been stirred into creating what is undoubtedly her finest CD to date. I give it my highest recommendation, and I am sure that many listeners will be able to empathise with the whirlwind of emotions experienced by the composer. It might even help them through the healing process. I find myself connecting to the music at a level rarely experienced by me before.

In all respects, a CD of the highest quality. Don't miss out on this very special album.

S.C.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the Darkness

Michele McLaughlin

 

 

Michele McLaughlin

 

 

Watch and listen to Michele playing the track ‘The Descent’ from her album. Press the Play button below. Enjoy!