Pianist-composer Jim Brickman is at his best when he keeps it simple — just his gently melodic lines at the keyboard, adorned sparingly with the barest hint of strings. Add much more and it can get — well — treacly.
But solo piano doesn’t exactly put you on the fast track to popular radio airplay, hence Brickman’s formula perfected throughout his career of engaging guest vocalists on selected tracks to create full-on, romantic pop ballads that can fit into an FM playlist between, say, the Backstreet Boys and Celine Dion without rocking the boat. (Despite his superstar stature in the New Age instrumental market, Brickman remains most widely known for his work on the 1997 Martina McBride single “Valentine.”)
It’s no surprise, therefore, that Brickman devotes a third of Love Songs & Lullabies to vocal tracks, although one of them, “I See the Moon,” is more of a Richard Carpenter-esque indulgence — Brickman does the vocals himself — that doesn’t sound like it was crafted with single-dom in mind. Thankfully, there’s only one truly too-saccharine number, “Beautiful (as You)” sung by the harmony-challenged group All-4-One.
Actress-singer Jane Krakowski comes through with the album’s best vocal performance on “You,” a bouncy up-tempo track that can easily withstand repeat listens. “Love Never Fails” almost goes over-the-top with Enya-evoking orchestrations weighing down a lovely core concept — the biblical “Love is patient, love is kind” text combined with a Bach melody. It’s redeemed by an earnest but understated vocal delivery from Amy Sky.
Elsewhere, Brickman stays firmly in the plaintive, contemplative piano solo mode that has served him so well in the past. (If it ain’t broke, right?) He isn’t coming through with anything with an enormous amount of standout potential as he has in the past — “Angel Eyes” on 1995′s By Heart is a personal favorite you’d do well to search out if you’re a Brickman novice — although all of his solos function perfectly well as lovely and relaxing, albeit innocuous, aural diversions.
Brickman’s best solo melodies are the too-brief “Prelude” and “Shades of White,” while the lullabies of the album’s title, aside from the aforementioned “I See the Moon,” are represented by “Little Stars,” incorporating “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Rock-a-bye Baby.” Fans of the CBS soap opera Guiding Light will want to be sure to hear “Course of Love,” which has been featured prominently on the program. Also, trend-spotting musical theatre lovers may want to check out what Brickman’s up to at the moment — he is said to be contemplating composing for Broadway.
A Capital Pride benefit will be held in conjunction with Jim Brickman’s concert appearance at 8 p.m. on Friday, February 21, at the Warner Theatre, 1299 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Tickets are $125, including concert admission, autographed photo and post-concert reception with Brickman. For reservations, call 202-797-3510 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.