Windham Hill Records, 2001
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/25/2001
After experiencing the whirlwind of success with his last few albums (as well as the enormous exposure he got with My Romance and its airings on PBS), Jim Brickman seemed to realize that he needed to refocus his music. Since his debut, his albums had featured more instrumentation and songs with vocals than the album before - and maybe he decided it was time to go back to the basics... at least part of the way.
Simple Things reflects that change, featuring Brickman the songwriter and the pianist more than the love balladeer - though he does not leave those aspects of his career in the dust, either. At times, this proves to be Brickman's most beautiful album, and yet it is his most challenging work to date.
Say what you will about New Age music, there is something inherently relaxing about hearing instrumental piano music, so long as it is well-written and well-executed. While there is still the use of background instrumentation on Simple Things, Brickman wisely turns his attention back to his piano work. This is not meant to slam his more richly orchestrated works - but hearing just Brickman at the keys brings back warm feelings of his debut effort No Words.
Yet Brickman would be foolish to completely eschew the progress he's made over the years with his music, and everything comes to the surface with "Serenade," a song which might have long-time Brickheads standing there with their mouths wide open. With a synthesized beat, Brickman comes close to sounding like Moby or Vangelis with this work - blasphemy to some, music to other's ears. Realizing I admitted earlier that I liked Brickman's returning to basics, had Simple Things been filled with songs like this, I'm betting it would have been an unstoppable album.
Working with an advance copy of this disc, as well as no bio or liner notes, I'm at a loss to say exactly which guests are featured on which tracks of Simple Things. (I do note that Rebecca Lynn Howard is the vocalist of record on the first single "Simple Things".) I had thought that Brickman himself handled the vocals on "A Mother's Day," but I'm guessing now that the honor belonged to Tommy Douglas (who I also believe wrote the song). If this track doesn't have you reaching for the Kleenex, then you've got no emotional feeling in your body. The selflessness of a mother, putting aside her exhaustion to make sure things are ready for her family for the next morning - ah, cripes, I can barely write about it without tearing up.
Simple Things is a disc filled with wonderful moments, daring the listener (especially those who hopped on the Brickman bandwagon in the last two years or so) to accept his work in a more stripped-down format and without overloading the disc with vocals. With this work, Brickman has not only created his best album, but has raised the bar for other adult-contemporary piano balladeers.