Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Music Notes – Guitar Man

George Benson’s latest album is called Guitar Man,  and it is a typical mix of Benson’s excellent playing  and his smooth singing on a couple of numbers.

"Tenderly" opens the album with some gorgeous interplay of chords and melody. May be a little mellow for some, but I liked it quite a bit. The Coltrane standard "Naima" gets the same treatment, and I wonder if I might have liked the project more, if it had been there were more songs arranged and performed as solo pieces, or as this eventually becomes, a trio effort. The solo guitar on "Danny Boy" is gorgeous, bringing a sense of joy to what is typically a sad tune. This is one of the best pieces on the album.

There are three vocal tracks on Guitar Man. The first is a nice rendition of the Stevie Wonder classic, “My Cherie Amour.” It isn’t particularly special despite Benson’s usually distinctive voice, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. The others are “Since I Fell For You” and “My One and Only Love.” Both sound really good, especially with the stripped down sound. And I love the piano work of Joe Sample on “My One and Only Love,” but I would hope an album called Guitar Man" might feature Benson’s main instrument. “Since I Fell For You” has a couple nice guitar runs, but too few for me.

Benson plays a swinging rendition of the classic tune, "Tequila."  The full band clearly is having a lot of fun. "Don't Know Why," which follows, is nice, but sounds much like every other smooth jazz version of the song. "The Lady In My Life" is pretty good, spoiled only by the string sound that makes it too close to smooth jazz and too far from the beautiful melody making that Benson can manage on his own.

One thing Benson does very well is scat along with his lead lines. However, the only song we get much of that is "Fingerloo." At first, I thought it a poor choice to end the album, but after repeated listenings, I am pleased to see the project close with the sort of sounds I associate with this great guitarist and fine singer.

The album has many terrific moments and I sometimes wished I could get a whole disc of pieces like “Fingerloo” or “Danny Boy.” It is still a good listening experience, and I do not think Benson fans are going to be disappointed. But I also think he is better than this outing shows.

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