Chris Nole – Melodies Of Grace – EP Review
Let’s be clear. If it wasn’t for the sheer amount of music that Chris Nole has already put out over the years, or the fact that there’s an entire songbook for his latest EP with all the music written out, then it would have certainly been the technique that he plays with that would tip a person off to the conclusion that this definitely isn’t his first time sitting down at the bench.
I’ve grown up around piano my entire life…my dad teaches it professionally, plays keyboards in different bands as well, and it’s always a welcome sound that I grew up on hearing more than my alarm clock to wake me up in the morning. The associated nostalgia that comes with piano music for me, is quite powerful…it’s always been one of my absolute favorite instruments to listen to. I’m stoked to be able to check out the Melodies Of Grace EP from Chris Nole, which includes five exclusively piano instrumentals, four of the songs being traditional hymns and one original of his own. When I was a kid, I spent my time in church with my grandma, but I’ll fully admit, it was one of those places that was completely solid on knowledge and scripture, but dramatically shorter on rhythm, melody, and groove when it came to the music. I have a feeling however, that this is probably a much more common occurrence for many people…I’m sure lots of us have experienced a roomful of people with the best of intentions singing without really knowing the words and just doing their best to join in. I think that also speaks to just how rare it is to find a Chris Nole out there, who can take the emotion in the words and recreate it beautifully through the music alone in a way that sincerely connects to those that listen. Without so much as a single lyric, over five songs, Chris proves beyond the shadow of a doubt, that music can define the moment, mood, atmosphere, and emotions in ways that words could never – this new EP is stunning.
It’s also a genuine testament to gorgeous musicianship that an artist like Nole can take a song that you’ve heard plenty of times and could likely recite by heart, like “Amazing Grace,” and play it all in such a beautiful & captivating way that makes you want to hear this version again & again. Not even remotely kidding…I found myself with the added luxury of extra time throughout much of this week, and quite often, I just let the Melodies Of Grace EP loop on repeat for hours on end; even though I knew “Amazing Grace” more than I recognized the others, it still held up just as strongly as listening to what was essentially all-new to me otherwise. That’s the power of cohesion, professionalism, and incredible talent combined – and in my opinion, the EP is laid out really cleverly by opening itself up with a song that we all likely know & love, inviting you into the record with a comforting familiarity before introducing us to tunes we might not know as well through his own time-stopping performances & perspective on these classic hymns. Right from the very first notes that were played – I could hear it…it was that old adage of ‘it’s not just what you play, but how you play it’ creeping into my head & heart – you can feel the connection that Nole has to music on “Amazing Grace” immediately and for those of you that know the piano well, you’ll be able to hear the technique in his touch come shining through. It’s got that gentle hint of the blues running through the atmosphere, the heart of the emotions in the music come through powerfully, and listen to the absolutely remarkable way that Chris chooses to play “Amazing Grace” – you can hear how he approaches the piano-keys that his fingers are familiar with the weight of every key and that he knows exactly how to push the right amount of energy into every note.
The way he glides through the melody on “Be Thou My Vision” is instant confirmation that the insightful way that Nole can connect emotions to music was no accident on “Amazing Grace” before – this second tune flows with invitational sound and is definitely an early highlight for his gifted instrumental abilities. He contrasts the low-end so beautifully with the brightness of the lead-notes that it’s truly breathtaking. A song like “Be Thou My Vision” is so stunningly complete when you hear Nole’s version…it leaves you wanting nothing more than what you just heard. He knows exactly when to fill the atmosphere with multiple layers & chords, but also when to dial it back to reveal the impact that space can make in music as he lets individual notes ring out…his adherence to the original ideas of the hymns he’s covering is spot-on, but still completely interpretive when you hear how much of the heart of this artist ends up in the material through the way Chris plays it. The melody-line that flows so beautifully through “Be Thou My Vision” is beyond impressive when it comes right down to it…that’s an exceptional piece of writing without question. The way that Chris can bring life and emotion to each note & tone, the way he plays with such controlled and professional passion…it’s truly insightful…”Be Thou My Vision” is an audible confirmation that he can get right to the heart of a melody and put its natural essence into the spotlight.
“The Water Is Wide” was impressively spaced-out and controlled, using the tempo and pace to its advantage and letting the piano tones ring out sweetly into the air. Every time this song came on, I felt myself slipping into that nostalgic atmosphere of my own thoughts while it played…there’s a contemplative & reflective sound to this song that sets you blissfully adrift to relax your mind & soul. I can’t imagine anyone out there not being able to hear or recognize the special gift that Chris has for making music…and you’d have to be made of pure stone to not have a song like “The Water Is Wide” move you in some way, shape, or form. Gracefully as ever, Chris adds each note & tone to the music with impeccable timing that fully reveals the scope of the emotions that exist within the layers of the writing and brings them stunningly to the surface for all to hear. “The Water Is Wide” makes its impact through a blissful & exquisite clarity that could calm the storm of anyone’s bad day and send them into a soothing atmosphere that’s designed to perfectly quiet the intensity and set us forth into the serene.
Of the covers, accessibility-wise, “Wayfaring Stranger” might have the most advantage with its lower-tones and defined rhythm & groove leading to a lot of hooks that people would latch onto. Mind you, I don’t think that Nole is out there to create his music for the radio…I don’t think his intentions stem from anything other than the pure joy derived from making music really…but from that objective standpoint, it’s also impossible to deny that there is crossover potential in “Wayfaring Stranger” that exists in a way that it doesn’t with the others. And no – that’s not me saying this is the best song on the EP, nor is it me saying that this is going to be the ‘hit’ for you personally – that’s merely an observation on how the masses listen to music for the most part; those of us out there that like to take more time to listen and get right into the experience for all it can offer, will likely find the other four tunes resonating more strongly for them. It’s a comment on the different direction that “Wayfaring Stranger” goes with its overall sound…you’ll find it different than the rest and in its own great ways…still plenty cohesive enough to fit with the rest of the songs on the EP and also serves a purpose in bringing the covers to a close with a solid finale & setting up the original last tune perfectly to make an impact at the very end. “Wayfaring Stranger” completely confirms that Chris’ left-hand and right-hand move as one entity with a solid goal, communicating the melody in their own separate ways that lead to compelling interactions between them as they combine their efforts for the greater-good of the song. Don’t get me wrong, you can hear this in every track for sure, but for many, it’ll be more pronounced & noticeable on “Wayfaring Stranger” through a vibe that seems destined to catch a bit more attention upfront when listening.
While it’s certainly clear that Chris has established his own voice in music without any words at all throughout the first four covers – I’m pretty much lost for words on how to describe the magic you’ll hear in the original tune at the end of the EP, “A Melody Of Grace.” Exquisite, extraordinary – it’s an immaculately beautiful composition that angelically explores melody and emotion through the most stunning lens that music can possibly offer the ears. I think that, while a song like “Wayfaring Stranger” is bound to catch the attention of many outside of the genre as well as on the inside – a song like “A Melody Of Grace” is equally destined to be a reason that people stay to listen to this record for a very, very long time, well into the future. It’s a timeless melody…there’s not even an argument to be made otherwise – “A Melody Of Grace” shines a beautiful spotlight on Nole’s own ability to compose original material…and as much as I’ve loved every second along the way, it’s also pretty hard to deny that this could very well be the crown jewel of the entire EP right here at the end of it. Just past the twenty-second mark, you’ll hear the absolutely captivating and amazing idea he’s created and brought to life – the melody-line of the music and the incredible way he plays it are as gorgeous as gorgeous can get. Chris brilliantly fills in the low-end with just the right amount of boldness in the background to complement the brightness & sweetness he’s combined in the lead…if there was any complaint to be had, about this final song or this whole EP in general, it’s simply that it’s too short and you’ll want so much more of it that the insatiable NEED to listen to this record is quite possibly impossible to explain. But that’s what the ‘repeat’ function is for dear listeners, dear readers, dear friends.
You just can’t ignore the talent of Chris Nole on this EP…what a gifted, talented, and truly extraordinary artist he is! I honestly wouldn’t change a single note on this entire record – I love the songs, I love the way he played them, and I think he’s created an original of his own that exceed every high standard he set along the way to end the experience with maximum impact and a great way to introduce people to his own style of writing. The Melodies Of Grace EP is the exact kind of record that will capture your heart & mind in all the best of ways…the kind of record that you want to make the extra time for to listen to…the kind of experience that will authentically make an impact you’ll remember. Absolutely beautiful music from beginning to end – this man is a world-class talent.
Find out more about Chris Nole at his official website at: https://chrisnole.com/