February 28, 2019 | Jonathan Widran
The first thought that strikes me as I continue listening to pianist/keyboardist composer Michael Joseph’s extraordinarily sweeping, emotional and melodic debut album Into the Blue is that it’s timeless. It’s like a symphony for our time, texturing gorgeous heart centered piano melodies with lush, soaring strings that underscore and emphasize the main themes, but often are used as launching off points into mystical realms all their own.
The reason it’s important to emphasize that the imaginative artist’s 13-track work is timeless is that while it’s perfectly capable of tugging viscerally on the soul in 2019, it also harkens back to an era in new age/contemporary instrumental music that is dear to myself and genre fans who were listening to the popular sounds of the genre in the early 90s. In those days, pianists and orchestral masters like Yanni, John Tesh and David Lanz ruled both charts and hearts with the same kind of triumphant, alternately sweetly delicate and rambunctiously buoyant blend of ivory and string section magic. Another artist I loved back then was Argentine pianist Raul Di Blasio, who mixed that dual vibe with a distinctively exotic Latin flair.
The genesis of Into the Blue was a conversation Michael had with his wife Beth. During a break from arranging dance music for a specific project, he said, “I wish I could compose music. I know I can arrange, but to compose would be such a gift.” She replied, “Have you ever tried for more than ten minutes?” With her encouragement, he seated himself at the piano for two hours and emerged with the graceful, emotion and movement filled, “Awakened.” Released as a single in 2015, the original track appeared on the popular New Age compilation album Sounds from the Circle VII. Re-recorded for Into the Blue, the tune sounds like it was composed for angels to dance to, builds slowly from its piano foundations to the rich richly textured symphonic elements.
From there, Michael created the transcendent collection simply by taking an introspective look at his life and inside his soul. His inspiration comes from a variety of sources that help us navigate through the window of his blue eyes (imagery which inspired the album title) into the intimate and far off regions of his soul. Sometimes, the songs emerge from very intimate emotions connected to a very specific life event, as on the lyrical, soulful solo piano gem “Another Chance.” He wrote the piece after Beth had experienced a traumatic life threatening health issue where he thought he might lose her. It’s literally about another chance to appreciate their time together, and another chance at life (for her literally, for him spiritually and emotionally).
Other times, as on the exuberantly optimistic “Daybreak,” the inspiration can stem from something as sweet and carefree as the spring in his step he felt one morning. Or the simple desire to plan a fun-filled “Escape” (which starts with meditative piano and then bursts into groove and symphonic motion”), jump headfirst “Into the Storm” (which is fast and furious like a storm, but with sunshine bursting through the clouds) or simply reflect on people and times in his life (the wistfully nostalgic “Missing You.” Michael can be profoundly spiritual, as on the church bell tinged “Church of My Heart” and ease from there into whimsical romance (“Lover’s Waltz”). Sometimes, it seems like he simply wants to help us simply chill and experience “The Quiet Within” (a song that provides an avenue to do just that if we take a deep breath and tag along).
The lyrical, folkloric “Carpathian Echoes,” provides an open door to a unique element of Michael’s personal and professional biography. It is based on some of the chord progressions used in the folk music of the Carpatho Rusyn people, whose homeland is situated at the crossroads where the borders of Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland meet. It is one of the tracks on Into the Blue that taps into Michael’s fascinating lifelong connection to Eastern European folk music.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he still lives, he started playing piano at age six and received classical training for 12 years while also learning clarinet and bass. He was also in the junior groups of the The Tamburitzans, the longest running multi-cultural song and dance
company in the United States. Years later, he and Beth taught the very junior group they grew up together in. His passion for their music inspired him to learn to play several stringed folk instruments indigenous to the countries of that region.
By Dick Metcalf, editor, Contemporary Fusion Reviews - June 19, 2019
Powerful personal portraits Michael Joseph – INTO THE BLUE: Michael’s music gives you powerful and personal portraits into the soul behind his blue eyes… he captures his feelings very nicely, and shares them with you through his fingers… many of his compositions are available for listening/viewing, so be sure to SUBSCRIBE to his YouTube channel now… I did.
What I enjoy most about his creations is that they are fully realized… in other words, not just the traditional “solo piano” of many New Age recordings… one of the best songs I’ve heard (yet) in 2019 is “Escape“… it starts off in a very sedate and somber mood, giving you the feeling that you’re imprisoned… but, right at the 2:25 mark, it bounds into some of the most spirit-filled orchestral playing you’ll ever witness!
As Michael says in his own words, “each song says a lot about me, as if they are powerful snapshots touching upon different experiences, thoughts and emotions“… one of the best examples of that is the powerful opener, “Awakened“… he weaves his solo piano passages together masterfully with synth strings that will make your ears stand up and take notice; if any song should be considered for a New Age award – this is IT, folks.
The bell sounds on the intro are a perfect lead-in to “Church of My Heart“… I just LOVED the vocal choir sounds he’s meshed in at the 1:54 mark… solid composition, and full-bodied spirit that will provide just the right inspiration for your journey!
My personal favorite of the thirteen marvelous realizations Michael shares on this album is (without question) the dynamic and moving “Into The Storm” begins (as you might expect) with images of an “average day”, but after the 1:42 mark, the strings begin to whirl around you with passion and a taste of the fury that life sometimes can be… tasty playing, indeed.
I give Michael a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating for his instrumental debut release, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) score of 4.99.
Into the Blue
2019 / Michael Joseph Music
Review by Kathy Parsons
July 9, 2019
Into the Blue is the debut album from pianist/composer Michael Joseph. Several years ago, the longtime music arranger mentioned to his wife that he wished he could compose music. She asked him if he’d ever tried for more than ten minutes and encouraged him to sit at the piano for two hours and challenge himself. About an hour later, a composer was born. “Awakened” was his first piece and he released it as a single in 2015. It was included in the compilation, Sounds From the Circle VII, and a newer version opens Into the Blue. The thirteen original compositions on the album are piano-based and most are lightly orchestrated.
Michael Joseph was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA and still lives there. He started playing the piano at the age of six and was classically-trained for twelve years. He also learned to play clarinet and bass, and developed a lifelong connection to Eastern European folk music, learning to play several of the folk instruments indigenous to the countries of that region. Some of those influences can be heard in his original music as well.
nto the Blue opens with “Awakened,” a piece that begins as a lighthearted (digital) piano solo that adds more instrumental voices as it unfolds and becomes livelier and more dance-like. “Carpathian Echoes” is based on chord progressions used in the folk music of the Carpatho-Rusyn people of Eastern Europe. Guitar and other stringed instruments beautifully carry the poignant, bittersweet melody. The title for the album and the title tune were inspired by the adage that the eyes are the gateway to the soul and the fact that Michael Joseph has blue eyes. The song has the piano in the lead most of the time, but is also orchestrated with strings, percussion and other symphonic instruments. “Daybreak” is buoyant and full of the promise of a new day. “Church of My Heart” begins with the sound of church bells that can occasionally be heard throughout the piece along with choir voices, piano and other instruments. “The Quiet Within” is a favorite. Not all that quiet or peaceful, the lively rhythm and poignant, flowing melody create a warm and soothing vibe that won’t likely put you to sleep. Piano, harpsichord flutes and strings are the main instrumentation. “Escape” is another favorite. It begins slowly with the piano playing the primary melody, which is sweetly melancholy. From there, it takes on a more Middle-Eastern sound with distinctive rhythms and ethnic instrumentation. At the mid-point of the piece, the tempo slips into high gear and the music becomes joyful, lively and danceable. There are several fun nods to Yanni’s earlier music in this one. “Missing You” is an expression of love - pure and simple! “Into the Storm” also playfully acknowledges Yanni’s influence. It begins as a quiet piano solo - the calm before - and then explodes with a high-energy swirling motion that will sweep you right into a chair. Fun! “Another Chance” turns more serious with a soulful piece about gratitude and how the devastating events in our lives can teach us to focus on what we have and love most.
Into the Blue is a very promising start for Michael Joseph and is available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby.
Artist: Michael Joseph
Title: Into The Blue
Genre: Instrumental New Age
Release Date: April 19, 2019
Review by Keith “MuzikMan” Hannaleck
July 28, 2019
Into The Blue is the debut album for Michael Joseph. This can be a turning point in the career of any artist. Into The Blue allows each listener to look into those blue eyes of the artist and beyond. In other words, right into the very soul of the man playing all the music.
What Michael says about new age music on the inside cover of the CD is insightful. I agree 100% with his thought that music can shape your day and bring you calm. His music is a beautiful tribute to the keys that created all tracks. And all the compositions were created by him as well. This is for a man who wondered one day if he could compose music. I would say the answer to that question is a resounding YES!
Into The Blue is a very inviting release. It doesn’t lull you to sleep, it brings about introspection and complete peace within. This is what the artist was searching for while composing this music. It is indeed a direct reflection of his soul. I believe any astute listener can appreciate the sincerity of this man and his music.
The keyboards have plenty of accompaniment that provides the lush soundscapes for Michael to gently drop his tasteful keystrokes upon. Listening to all these tracks is like riding on a pure white cloud floating along through a clear blue sky. His musicianship perfectly meshes with the layers he puts together in each song. There are many different influences in his music as well. You can hear them all loud and clear, and that my fellow listeners is a beautiful thing.
“Church of My Heart” is one of the finest examples (which I added to my Spotify Playlist on my site). The gorgeous melodies and choir coming into the mix is a slice of heaven. Who would think such beauty could abound from a shiny silver disc? It is one of the miracles of technology. I am waiting for the day when all of these wonderful artists like Michael start getting their music on vinyl, it will be a glorious occasion indeed. In the meantime, we still get to enjoy the originality and talent of fine artists such as this.
Into The Blue is exceptional debut release that should lead to many more to come.
Are the eyes a truly a window into the soul? Perhaps so. Michael Joseph has blue eyes, and a picture of these beauties are incorporated in the cover artwork of “Into the Blue.” This is the excellent debut instrumental album from composer, pianist and multi-instrumentalist, Michael Joseph. So, let’s delve deeper into this interesting reflection.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he still lives, Michael started playing piano at age six and received classical training for twelve years while also learning clarinet and bass, as well as learning to play the accordion and several stringed folk instruments along the way.
He became heavily involved in the junior groups of The Tamburitzans, the longest running multi-cultural song and dance company in the United States. For those that do not know, “tamburitza” refers to a family of long-necked lutes popular in Southern Europe and Central Europe, particularly Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Slovenia, and Hungary.
Here in “Into the Blue” Michael expresses himself as a piano based artist/composer for the first time. And he does it very well. Inspired by his love of classic New Age music and legendary genre artists like Enya, Yanni, George Winston, David Arkenstone and Loreena McKennitt, “Into the Blue” is essentially thirteen tracks of piano performance combined with synth sounds and percussion. It’s just over an hour of melodic, heartfelt, passionate New Age piano with a somewhat traditional “New Age” feel, as well as incorporating elements of folk and European style music, making the album quite refreshing and enjoyable as a whole.
The album opens with “Awakened,” which was first released as a single in 2015. This is a perfectly titled, melodic, well-performed first song with a Celtic feel. Here we have a very agreeable blend of acoustic piano along with synth generated symphonic and percussive elements. It’s a bright, happy tune.
Following is the uplifting, broadly sweeping, and symphonic “Carpathian Echoes.” This song is based on some of the chord progressions used in the folk music of the Capatho Rusyn people, whose homeland is situated at the crossroads where the borders of Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland meet. It is one of the tracks on “Into the Blue” that taps into Michael’s lifelong connection to Eastern European folk music.
The title track, “Into the Blue,” is just delightful, perfectly capturing feelings of freedom and soaring above it all. Here we can see into Michael Joseph’s soul as well as our own, both from a higher perspective of what I’ll call “oneness.” This is a beautiful, flowing song that makes our hearts sing. Lovely.
Some other standouts on the album: The exuberant, soul-elevating “Daybreak,” is wonderful with its wide, happy, and cinematic feel. “Church of My Heart” is memorable, melodic, and heavenly. Here we have great synth instrumentation and synth choir underneath that altogether help raise the spirits. This is a wonderful mix.
“The Quiet Within” is also an easy favorite. This song features an awesome melody and incorporates strings, stimulating percussive elements, plus sweet flute. Very uplifting.
The energizing “Escape” starts off quietly, as if we need to escape our perceived limitations, and then swiftly changes tempo to very fast in the middle. Here again we have another excellent and catchy melody, and this is the exciting “chase scene.” Very invigorating. As well, the exuberant, stimulating “Into the Storm” does the very same.
The album winds down beautifully with the passionate solo piano piece, “Another Chance.” This song was inspired by a traumatic health scare his wife experienced. He thought he had lost her, and the song speaks profoundly to the gratitude he felt at having another chance at life together. . .another chance to live. Yes, we see your soul, Michael Joseph, and it’s awesome.