George Benson--Songs and Stories

You know, writers often enjoy chronicling an artist’s career from its very beginning to illustrate his or her staying power, progress or maturity over the years, etc. In the case of guitar virtuoso George Benson, clearly one of the most respected and admired guitar legends around, years just don’t seem to matter and, in fact, just melt into one huge mist of excellence that seems to simply disregard a beginning yet has no end. I can probably say nothing here that hasn’t already been said about this musical giant who sings, plays, and has indulged in practically every major musical genre almost effortlessly. Add that to the ever-growing company of artists who have come to know, experience, and respect the genius of Benson, and you’ve got an indelible chapter in the history of music that bears exploring time and time again. Here on his latest project, Songs and Stories, he again dazzles with his creativity, soul, strength, and balance.

Produced by composer/producer and bass heavyweight Marcus Miller and featuring a stellar lineup which includes guitarists Norman Brown, Wah Wah Watson, saxmen Gerald Albright, Tom Scott, percussionist Paulinho Da Costa, vocalists Lalah Hathaway, Patti Austin, Carolyn, Lori, and Sharon Perry;  keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, and simply too many other bright lights to list here, each tune has a charming personality of its own, starting with the elegant treatment of James Taylor’s “I Don’t Want to Be Lonely Tonight” and confidently striding through the rest of the album with taste and precision. 

The breezy “Show Me the Love” is reminiscent of some of Benson’s earlier up-tempo stuff, like “Gimme the Night,” in many ways, but it still breathes its own air as Benson chants and riffs in that unique and buoyant manner of his. The spiritual and even bluesy “A Telephone Call Away” is performed with such character with Lalah Hathaway’s pipes and is about as moving as you can get without breaking out in a triumphant testimonial shout. The track, “Nuthin’ But a Party” with Norman Brown and Marcus Miller should be just the remedy for any immobile day or night in your life. As if you needed more, Benson’s handling of the late Brook Benton’s vocal classic “Rainy Night in Georgia”-- complete with soulful vocals by the guitarist-- is enough to stir even the coldest heart. And how can one ignore the offering of a splendid interpretation of Christopher Cross’s  “Sailing?”

I could go on and on about this magnificent project with its dozen of dazzling pieces, but you truly have to “be there” to experience this one for yourself, and I'm going out on a limb here to say that, since I know you're truly a smooth jazz fan, you have already "been there" and have this one in your collection. -- Ronald Jackson