George Benson - Songs and Stories (2009)

George Benson
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If you're a jazz guitar fan of a certain age, you might be a big fan of Wes Montogmery, Kenny Burrell or the recently departed Les Paul. There probably aren't too many people around who recall Django Reinhart or Charlie Christian. Younger music fans might like smooth jazz artists like Norman Brown. The jazz guitarist of my generation was George Benson. As a force in popular music, it could be said that Benson reached the heights as a crossover artist that Montgomery might have reached had he not died suddenly in 1968.

Montgomery was scoring pop his in the mid-1960s with his originals like "Bumpin'" and covers of rock songs and is basically one of the early adaptors of what came to be known as contemporary jazz. Benson, who also came up playing straight-ahead jazz in the 1960s, reached a level that few instrumentalists attain these days. The major reason for Benson's success is that he had one thing that greats like Montgomery did not have - a good singing voice.

If you're a jazz guitar fan of a certain age, you might be a big fan of Wes Montogmery, Kenny Burrell or the recently departed Les Paul. There probably aren't too many people around who recall Django Reinhart or Charlie Christian. Younger music fans might like smooth jazz artists like Norman Brown. The jazz guitarist of my generation was George Benson. As a force in popular music, it could be said that Benson reached the heights as a crossover artist that Montgomery might have reached had he not died suddenly in 1968.

Montgomery was scoring pop his in the mid-1960s with his originals like "Bumpin'" and covers of rock songs and is basically one of the early adaptors of what came to be known as contemporary jazz. Benson, who also came up playing straight-ahead jazz in the 1960s, reached a level that few instrumentalists attain these days. The major reason for Benson's success is that he had one thing that greats like Montgomery did not have - a good singing voice.

That voice scored Benson chart topping and Grammy winning records in the 1970s and 1980s - "This Masquerade," "The Greatest Love of All," "Give Me the Night," Love X Love" and "Turn Your Love Around," just to name a few. Since the mid-1970s, Benson has made a career of showcasing a voice that has great range and sensitivity with some great jazz guitar improvisation.          

Benson uses that same formula on his latest CD Songs and Stories. The CD is a mix of original compositions written by guests such as Bill Withers and remakes of classic songs such as "Rainy Night in Georgia" and "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight." The record also features guest appearances by players such as Norman Brown who count Benson as a major influence.

Benson's originals are loved, but his work as a cover artist is underrated. Of course, he remade "Love Ballad," "Star of the Story" and "Moody's Mood." However, three of my favorite Benson remakes were his 1990 covers of "Here, There and Everywhere," "Starlight" and "You Don't Know What Love Is," that appeared on the  overlooked album Tenderly. I liked all three because Benson's vocals were excellent, but also his guitar work was among the best I've heard on a contemporary jazz record.

Benson is his creative best on Songs and Stories. He seems to know that the instrumental solos are competing for space with the vocals and the flourishes he adds at the end of each line of vocals and his extended solos are all memorable. The same can be said of Benson's guitar work on the cover of Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free."

The originals provide a balance ranging from the friendly up-tempo guitar duel that Benson and Brown wage on "Nuthin' But A Party," to the mid-tempo ballad "Family Reunion." Songs and Stories also sports several instrumental tunes that showcase Benson's ability to bring the kind of improvisation and communication with the other players that is often missing from many contemporary jazz tracks. Songs and Stories is a CD that the legion of Benson fans will like, and the album has enough cross over potential to draw the casual listener as well. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

Editor's Note:  An enhanced sound version of this disc has been released by Monster Cable's "Monster Music" label and can be obtained by CLICKING HERE

 

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