For Christmas, a friend sent me “The Piano Guys 2” CD. In a note, she said that there was no way I was allowed to give the CD any less than an A, of which I smiled and thought, “I can’t guarantee that; I have to be honest, after all.” I have to admit, I had never before heard of The Piano Guys until I opened the gift, so color me bewildered when I learned there was a CD released before this one (and apparently a massive YouTube following). Suffice it to say, I was certainly intrigued, and after listening to the CD a couple of times, I can happily say with all honesty that I will be able to abide by my friend’s request.
The Piano Guys are musicians who put instrumental twists on both classic and modern music. They are composed of a pianist (Jon Schmidt), a cellist (Steven Sharp Nelson), and their producer (Al van der Beek), all of whom, based on the music, are also very skilled songwriters. (There’s also a fourth member, the video producer/videographer, Paul Anderson, but I won’t be talking about him, as this review is about the CD, which, unfortunately, did not come with any videos.)
When I first popped in the disc, I didn’t know quite what to expect. I’ve always been a fan of instrumental music when it’s done well, and for my money, nobody does it better than Michael W. Smith. The way in which he’s able to use a piano to make every note sing with passion and true love is otherworldly, so I had already set the bar pretty high. But upon hearing the first few notes in their recreation of Taylor Swift’s “Begin Again,” I knew I was in for a treat, and they didn’t disappoint.
The highlights for me were the songs that were original pieces, including “Berlin,” a magnificent piece of artistry written by Steven Sharp Nelson and Al van der Beek that sings with a soft flair of power, commanding you to listen to the song forever. My absolute favorites, though, would have to be “All of Me” and “Waterfall,” both scored and conducted by Jon Schmidt with the simple use of the piano, and both delicately done with just the right amount of heart, glory and love (a feeling that melts into the boys version of “Just the Way You Are,” which is as magnetic as it is beautiful).
But we can’t overlook the way The Piano Guys are able to turn an old classic into a breath of fresh air. Their arrangements of “Mission Impossible” and the “Charlie Brown Melody” were fantastic; the use of each instrument was spot on, and the arrangements added just the right touches to make what was once old new again.
If I had to nitpick (and I do, since nothing is ever perfect), I would have to say that the “Lord of the Rings” arrangement, though very good, felt a bit flat compared to the rest of the pieces. It was very similar to Howard Shore’s elegant compositions, so it didn’t feel as if The Piano Guys had anything new to offer. And even though it’s included in the majority of pieces, I think I was almost expecting a little more use of the piano—as if I thought it would be utilized in all of the pieces. But both of these are such minor critiques that it’s almost pointless to even note them.
From this CD alone, I have to say that The Piano Guys are extremely talented at what they do, and I not only have to thank my friend for giving me this gift, but I have to say that, after listening to the CD, I am very excited to see what they will offer in the future and am looking forward to purchasing any new (and old) music from them.
My Grade: A