Jonathan Butler has come a long way since his self-titled 1987 album brought him fame in America that matched if not exceeded his status in his native South Africa. Back then, folks heard Butler’s guitar riffs and his vocals and saw the second coming of George Benson. Butler certainly had no problem with the comparison (who would?). Butler’s picking on instrumentals such as “Going Home” and the way he verbalized the guitar notes he played on tracks like “Lies” came right from the Benson playbook.
There were always differences, however. Butler, I think, is a more refined singer with a wider vocal range than his guitar hero. The two artists also have one major thematic and topical difference: Butler accepted Christ into his life when he was a youth trying to deal with the anger he felt growing up as a poor black person in apartheid era South Africa and he has released several recordings that are overtly and unapologetically Christian. Grace and Mercy, Butler’s latest record, falls into that category.
As a gospel/contemporary Christian artist, Butler’s sound is similar to that of his good friend Israel Houghton. Butler appeared on Houghton’s 2005 Alive in South Africa CD. Both artists have a talent for creating passionate and personal anthems of faith sporting lyrics that are devout and inspirational while also being accessible to believe and non-believer alike. Both men are at perfect ease when deploying the production techniques of pop, rock and R&B music for the purpose of making high-energy gospel music.
Grace and Mercy showcases Butler at the top of his game. The up-tempo “All That I Need” opens Grace and Mercy with funky bass line and a radio friendly hook. “Don’t Walk Away” combines an up-beat and bouncy beat with a “men ought to always pray and never faint” message. Butler trains the tune’s message on those who can’t find time to cultivate a relationship with God during the good times, but pray for deliverance when things get rough. “Don’t say that you need me when you barely call my name/Cuz I’m here ready to give you the world/Just don’t turn and walk away.”
Butler takes on the role of encourager on the mid-tempo cut “Trials.” This is an inspirational song in which Butler reminds the listener that Jesus endows believers with strength to emerge from any trial as “more than a conqueror.”
Throughout his career, Butler has navigated from instrumentalist, to socially relevant troubadour to soulful love man and gospel singer. Throughout all of those changes, there has been an underlying consistency that allowed Butler to keep long time fans while winning new followers. Butler’s albums feature songs that are lyrically strong and performed by an artist who has worked to refine his vocal instrument. Those qualities are readily apparent on Grace and Mercy, and will ensure that will be room in Butler’s amen corner for both the faithful and non-believers who want inspiration and quality music. Highly Recommended.
By Howard Dukes