Album Review of Undercurrent by Heath Andrews

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Artist: Michele McLaughlin
Album: Undercurrent
Review by: Heath Andrews

Evocative. If there’s one word to summarize Michele McLaughlin’s instrumental album Undercurrent, it’s evocative.  Spanning thirteen tracks, this solo piano recording is an impressive display of skill for her as a pianist as well as a songwriter.  McLaughlin keeps her songs focused and allows them to build in tone and color without delving into improvisation or extended tangents that would detract from the overall melody.  Most of all, each one of the songs here has the ability to strike the listener in their emotional center and draw out feelings that can make for an experience that is unique to them.

First and foremost, Undercurrent is very much exactly what it’s meant to be, a rich, solo piano record that falls in the neo-classical genre.  If you’re looking for something with more depth than that, you’re not going to find it here.  However, if you are looking for a powerful piano instrumental album, you’ll be incredibly satisfied with what’s here.  McLaughlin makes things sound effortlessly beautiful with how she weaves in and between various emotions and sensations

The album kicks off with “11,000 Miles,” a fitting introduction to the style of songwriting McLaughlin utilizes through most of the record.  From a simple start, the track builds rather rapidly, taking full advantage of the right hand side of the piano.  Much of what she plays ascends in majestic fashion while the left hand accompaniment keeps a basic structure in play.  True to the title, it does sound as if a long adventure is on the way, but the upbeat tone gives the sense that it will be a pleasant one.

When it comes to staying true to its name, the title track is a particularly brilliant example of this.  “Undercurrent” sounds tranquil at first but the second half of it picks up in a powerful way.  It’s not unexpected that the transition occurs, as just like an undercurrent, hints of it are there.  Finally it grabs hold and pulls you under, taking you wherever it chooses to go.  Unlike “11,000” Miles” however, the tone is darker, cemented by the resoundingly low chords that come crashing through.

“Full of Love” is another especially noteworthy piece for how it changes.  The first half of the song opens with a tender sound and some high notes that ultimately come together to form a familiar sounding melody; not familiar in that it sounds like something else, but in that you can sense where things are going.  The second half plays this all much faster.  If you look at it from the love angle it’s as if the heart is beating faster and faster and is thusly reflected in the performance.

In terms of showcasing her talents as an instrumentalist there’s a fun little addition that McLaughlin presents on a few of the songs, particularly on “Melody in Motion.”  It wastes very little time in going from a low key affair to something a bit more intricate, with part of that coming from the use of ornamentation.  The little flourishes she throws in are charmingly wonderful and also help emphasize the classical inspiration behind her compositions.

Because of the evocative nature of the pieces, it doesn’t quite do them justice to describe them in words.  When you have an album closer such as “Synesthesia” that is so rich, dynamic, and intense, it just needs to be listened to in order to appreciate.  It’s particularly fitting when it comes to that track considering what synesthesia is; a neurological phenomenon that causes people to experience one sensory input and have it automatically trigger an unrelated secondary one.  For example, some people may see a word yet associate it with a certain color, or associate certain sounds with a color.  But while this is unintentional in synesthesia, Undercurrent is meant to be evocative.

Michele McLaughlin’s Undercurrent is a profoundly entertaining album and artistically brilliant recording.  The structured nature of the pieces makes it very accessible while the depth of tones and the emotions they bring to the service give it a surprising level of complexity.  It’s because of this that ardent fans of instrumental piano work should eat this album right up, and anyone who’s interested in the genre but not too familiar with it, will find this to be a fantastic entry point.

Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)
Review by: Heath Andrews


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