By Heart

Jim Brickman

Windham Hill Records, 1995

http://jimbrickman.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/19/2001

Usually, when I've had a rotten day, there's two types of music I gravitate to. The first is full-throttle heavy metal - hey, better doing damage to my ears than punching out drywall. The second is on the opposite side of the musical spectrum - soft, instrumental music, usually featuring solo guitar or piano. It allows me to try and find my "happy place" - which, on any given day, is occupied by someone along the lines of Kathy Ireland.

In the case of By Heart, the sophomore release from new-age pianist Jim Brickman, there's something fundamentally different about this disc from his debut effort No Words. Sure, there's a little more instrumentation now than just solo piano, but that's not what I mean. Sure, there's the introduction of vocals on one track, but that's not what I mean. There's even a shift in the style of instrumental work from mourning reflection to light-hearted reminiscing, but even that'smy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 not what I mean.

No, what I mean is that By Heart is a pretty enough album, but it doesn't quite grab at the heartstrings like No Words does. Whether this is an intentional shift on Brickman's part or not, I don't know... but the album loses a little bit of an edge as a result.

Whereas many of the songs on No Words almost had the feel to them like they were the sad memories of looking back at a time past, By Heart almost challenges itself to be the polar opposite. From the opening notes of "Angel Eyes," this disc feels like Brickman is trying to hit a different emotional note with the listener. There's the slight hints of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" on "In A Lover's Eyes". There's even the daring move of taking a children's song and trying to give it relevance in adulthood with "Little Star".

And there is absolutely no denying that Brickman's performances and arrangements are beautiful. But where No Words almost locks you into the musical trip and dares you to travel with Brickman as he paints pictures with his piano work, By Heart doesn't evoke the same response on many levels. It would be wrong to say that Brickman failed, and it would be wrong to classify this as a bad album. It would be correct, though, to say that Brickman tries to take the listener on a journey, only neither musician nor outsider quite seems to know where it's destination is.

At first, the introduction of background instrumentation bothered me a little - but it never tries to overtake the power of Brickman's piano work, and eventually becomes a welcomed part of the voyage. The title track, the only song featuring vocals, does catch me off guard - is it me, or does the cover say "piano solos"? - but it serves two purposes in retrospect. First, it alerts the listener that Brickman is willing to go into the background to let his musical message be heard. Second, it positions him in the running for one of the genre's best-known love balladeers. In truth, it's a pretty song, though not the best vocal-oriented number Brickman's come up with. (Then again, we'll get to my favorites later in the week...)

By Heart is still a musical trip worth taking, and is a worthy follow-up disc, if not completely fulfilling. Maybe it's just that I've come to know Brickman's music to the point that I set the bar of expectations higher than I would a typical disc. Then again, Brickman is an artist who knows he can clear that bar whenever he pleases.

Rating: B+

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© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Windham Hill Records, and is used for informational purposes only.