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The pure pleasure of Brickman

Jim Brickman is a skilled pianist with a flair for melody and, in concert, a remarkable rapport with his fans.

He brought his "Christmas Romance: The Holiday Tour" program to Shea's Performing Arts Center on Saturday night and showcased all these talents for a hall that was packed to the gills.

It wasn't what one would call a visceral show. Instead, Brickman and his associates, violinist David Klinkenberg and vocalists Anne Cochran and Jake Simpson, offered an entertaining, lighthearted musical bon-bon filled with well-crafted tunes. That said, his concert was not the place to be if you are enamored of music with intellectual heft or emotional weight.

Brickman's strength lies with his pianistic embellishments of a simple melodic line, one that is frequently paired with a lyric expressing romantic thought. "Valentine," a song he fashioned for country chanteuse Martina McBride (sung Saturday by Cochran) is a good example of Brickman's work, sentimental without being cloying.

Cochran, who has been performing with Brickman since they were teenagers in Cleveland, has a nice, pleasant alto to go along with her easygoing stage manners. The banter between the two friends was ingratiating, especially when they reminisced about the first show they could have done together (a Holiday Inn in Erie, Pa.) but which was nixed by their parents.

Simpson's impressive pipes were a worthy match for Cochran, and Klinkenberg is a talented violinist, albeit without a compelling stage presence. By sharing the spotlight, Brickman revealed himself to be a pretty decent accompanist.

No matter how deft and clever his fingers are at the keyboard, and he is quite good, Brickman's overall approach aims at relaxation. It is relatively easy to draw an analogy between his undemanding, comforting, melodies (especially during Brickman's solo spots) with the sort of thing that the Weather Channel uses in the background for its local weather reports.

In a way, he is a successor to those lyrical, middle-of-the-road pianists who embodied class for Americans who came of age during the second World War -- artists like Roger Williams, Peter Nero and Liberace. Like them, Brickman is good at what he does, and no apologies are necessary for him or his fans.

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