Guitar Man, George Benson's second offering for Concord stands in contrast to 2009's Songs and Stories, though is not an about face. While the earlier album focused on Benson's proven, decades-long formula for pop and smooth jazz -- a group of of easy grooving tunes featuring his silky voice and shimmering guitar work -- this set focuses (primarily) on Benson as a contemporary jazz guitarist. While slickly produced by John Burk, this full-length is an ambitious but readily accessible collection with lithe, languid grooves and stellar playing. Primarily arranged by musical director/keyboardist David Garfield, Guitar Man contains eight instrumentals, which include beautiful solo readings of the standards "Tenderly," which opens the disc, and "Danny Boy." There is a lush, balladic, string-laden arrangement of the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" -- a consciously chosen reminder of Benson's work at A&M. Another highlight is his very contemporary but digified reading of John Coltrane's "Naima," which is simply gorgeous. It begins largely solo before the band enters halfway through, led by Harvey Mason's empathic drumming. The reading of "Tequila" here is warm, funky, and fun, with fine piano work by Joe Sample and percussion by Lenny Castro. Likewise, the reading of Arlen's and Harburg's "Paper Moon" displays beautiful interplay between Benson and Sample. Of the vocal tunes, the cover of Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour" is the standout, but "My One and Only Love," with a long solo guitar intro, is very fine too.
The set ends with two vocal tunes that contrast nicely.
First is a very soulful treatment of the Buddy Johnson nugget "Since I Fell for You," with his voice and guitar accompanied only by Garfield's piano.
Guitar Man finishes with Ronnie Foster's Latin-tinged groover "Fingerlero." Sample, Mason, and Castro star on the tune and Benson scats in trademark tandem with his guitar lines, sending it off in a contemporary jazz mode.
As a guitarist, Benson is still at the top of his game; his musical eclecticism and his on-target accessibility are refined and equally reflected here.
|Tenderly / Walter Gross / Jack Lawrence||George Benson||2:01|
|I Want to Hold Your Hand / John Lennon / Paul McCartney||George Benson||5:10|
|My Cherie Amour / Henry Cosby / Sylvia May / Stevie Wonder||George Benson||4:08|
|Naima / John Coltrane||George Benson||3:41|
|Tequila / Daniel Flores||George Benson||4:30|
|Don't Know Why / Jesse Harris||George Benson||2:45|
|The Lady in My Life / Rod Temperton||George Benson||4:30|
|My One and Only Love / Robert Mellin / Guy Wood||George Benson||3:24|
|Paper Moon / Harold Arlen / E.Y. "Yip" Harburg / Billy Rose||George Benson||2:44|
|Danny Boy / Frederick Edward Weatherly||George Benson||3:26|
|Since I Fell for You / Woodrow "Buddy" Johnson||George Benson||2:58|
|Fingerlero / Ronnie Foster||George Benson||3:39|