Jim Brickman

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The warmth of Jim Brickman's eloquent and heartfelt piano music is a perfect fit for the Christmas season, and his third holiday collection in ten years -- following 1997's The Gift and 2003's Peace -- offers a similarly engaging mix of piano solos, easily rhythmic instrumental ensemble pieces, and songs featuring well-known vocalists. On the instrumental side, the mix of warm and melodic Brickman originals ("Thanksgiving," "Gathering," "Bethlehem") and his inimitable "Brickman-ization" of songs we all know, love, and can't resist hearing him do ("Silent Night," listed under its original title "Still Nacht," "Deck the Halls," "Auld Lang Zyne") works brilliantly once again. The vocals are likewise inspiring, beginning with "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" sung by the pianist's frequent collaborator Anne Cochran and featuring the breezy acoustic guitar of smooth jazz star Peter White. While the spiritually driven ballad "Coming Home for Christmas," featuring former Lonestar lead singer Richie McDonald, was an instant classic focal track, the beautiful lullaby "My Angel (Christmas)" is more poignant for reasons beyond the emotional pull of its melody and lyrics -- it was the late R&B artist Gerald LeVert's last vocal recording. Brickman and LeVert -- who both attended Shaker Heights High School in Cleveland -- recorded it for the pianist's 2006 album Escape. Brickman had hoped that they could rework the song with a Christmas lyric for this project, but LeVert passed away before that could happen. It's a beautiful final testament by one of contemporary soul's great artists -- and a fittingly poignant inclusion on yet another seasonal gem from the wonderfully romantic realm of Brickman.

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