12 Songs, 34 Minutes

TITLE TIME
1:37
2:55
3:27
2:35
2:38
2:41
3:36
3:08
2:31
3:23
2:47
3:11

Ratings and Reviews

From MainlyPiano

KathyPiano7

"Christmas - Plain & Simple III" is Michele McLaughlin’s third solo piano Christmas album and is being released ten years after the first one ("II" was released in 2010). I’ve always enjoyed the simple honesty of Michele’s Christmas arrangements and the way she allows the melodies to sing without being overly embellished while still retaining her distinctive style. The twelve tracks on this album include one original. There is a nice balance to the combination of sacred and secular carols, serious and playful moods, and the inclusion of a few songs that we don’t hear too often. I also need to mention that the cover artwork by Matt Strieby is stunning! And, the companion solo piano songbook will be available soon!

"Christmas - Plain & Simple III" begins with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” It starts slowly with an air of sentimentality, but gradually lightens and increases speed to become joyful and spirited. “Good King Wenceslas” is an ancient carol, and this one starts out with the simple melody and lots of pedal to make it sound like it is echoing in a large hall or castle. After the first verse, it becomes a lively and playful waltz that dances and swirls to the end - a favorite! “What Child Is This?” is graceful and lyrical with a gorgeous interlude in the middle. “The Holly and The Ivy” is another very old carol made new again with a different rhythmic pattern and an original interlude in the middle. “In The Bleak Midwinter” is a carol I used to see in a lot of books of Christmas carols, but never heard. Over the past ten years or so, it has become a staple on instrumental recordings and Michele’s arrangement is a beauty! “Sing We Now of Christmas” is a traditional French carol that dates back to the 15th century. The minor key melody is dark and haunting, and Michele’s arrangement is beautiful and heartfelt. I was surprised that her arrangement of “Jingle Bells” is actually slow and reflective rather than quick and joyous. It’s a really nice way to focus on the melody (which was originally a Thanksgiving song!). “Up On the Housetop” returns to a playful style and childlike innocence. Her quiet treatment of “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” at the beginning makes me think of a shy child, but as the piece evolves, it becomes somewhat livelier - a very sweet arrangement! “Christmas Canon” is an adaptation of Pachelbel’s “Canon.” Michele’s version is much “bigger” and quicker than you usually hear it - and also more fun. “O Come All Ye Faithful” is a Christmas standard, but Michele has made it her own with a lively tempo and a playful attitude - very fun to play as well as to hear! Michele’s own “Peace” is a quiet, calming close to this festive holiday album. Slow and uncomplicated, it brings images of snow drifting silently through the trees at night.

"Christmas Plain & Simple III" would be a wonderful addition to your Christmas festivities for years to come. Recommended!

Artfully distills the essence of these Christmas classics

CandiceMichelle1

Michele McLaughlin is a self-taught pianist and composer who relays musical storytelling via her instrument. One listen to any of her albums and it becomes evident right away that she was simply born to play and compose on the piano. The third installment of her Christmas trilogy, entitled Christmas: Plain & Simple III, is comprised of 12 compositions that includes one original piece. Literally absent of any fancy bells or whistles, Michele artfully distills the essence of these wonderful Christmas classics.

The album opens on a cheerful note with a rendition of the popular English carol, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. Adding her signature touch, Michele employs a rippling effect on the piano between takes on the main melody. Following next is one of my favorite carols entitled “Good King of Wenceslas”. A song written about a Bohemian king who embarks on a journey amid the harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant, Michele’s unique take on this classic seemingly transfers the feeling of a long-distance traveler braving the cold. Here she opens the piece with drifting solo notes in the higher register, before introducing a galloping motion on the keys with her left hand and then applying a tapping effect on the main melody with her right hand. Imparting a resonating sound, these particularly intriguing aspects lend the piece a great deal of added dimension and color. Michele also recreates “What Child is This?” (a carol adapted to the melody of the traditional English folk song, “Greensleeves”) on her piano, while lending her own improvisation with an added touch of opulence from about the middle of the piece onwards.

Also notable is Michele’s gentler, more introspective take on the typically cheery and upbeat “Jingle Bells”, in which she begins the piece with her own melodic introduction before transitioning into the main familiar chorus. One of the livelier moments on the album includes the song “Christmas Canon”, of which Trans-Siberian Orchestra originally set to the melody of Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major”. Applying a more dynamic assertion on the piano, Michele similarly captures the nostalgic feel conveyed by the original tune. Perfectly closing out the album on a personally comforting, calming note is “Peace”, of which Michele composed.

Capturing the true spirit of Christmastime along with all its uniquely special moments, memories and often bustling nature that each holiday season brings, Christmas: Plain & Simple III would make a wonderful addition to any Christmas music collection. I could almost smell the hot cocoa, spices and evergreen while listening!

About Michele McLaughlin

A self-taught pianist and composer with a delicately facile style, new age keyboardist Michele McLaughlin played the instrument as a kindergartener. Inspired by a performance of George Winston's she saw at just eight years old, she applied herself to learn his tunes by ear and eventually began writing her own pieces. She released her first album, the tranquil Beginnings, in 2000. After positive feedback, she composed 16 songs in four months for her second release, Elysium. Over the next few years, she composed, performed, and self-released 2002's The Journey, 2003's A Change of Color, 2004's The Beginning of Forever, and the next year's After the Storm, before releasing Reflections 2000-2005: The Best of Michele McLaughlin. The collection was followed by 2006's Christmas Plain & Simple, and Dedication in 2007. Around this time, she committed to being a full-time musician and began performing and touring regularly. A Celtic Dream arrived in 2008, and 2010 saw Out of the Darkness and Christmas Plain & Simple II. Breathing in the Moment was released in 2012, followed by 2013's Waking the Muse. 2015's Undercurrent debuted at number five on the Billboard New Age Albums chart. ~ Marcy Donelson

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