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A metamorphosis into
smooth jazz

George Benson - Songs and Stories
2 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Oct. 19, 2009
George Benson

Review by Brad Walseth

Jazz guitar superstar George Benson's metamorphosis into a smooth jazz crooner is one of the more puzzling transitions to occur in the history of modern jazz, but clearly his album sales saw a rise with the move and he truly and honestly seems to enjoy singing as much as he loves playing. On Songs and Stories, Benson recorded songs with lyrics he felt spoke to him personally, while at the same time working with some of his favorite artists and songwriters. Musicians Marcus Miller (who also coproduces with John Burk) David Paich and Steve Lukather of Toto fame, Gerald Albright, Lee Ritenour, Norman Brown, Patti Austin, Tom Scott, Greg Phillinganes, Paulinho da Costa and more assist Benson in covering songs by James Taylor ("Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight"), Donny Hathaway ("Someday We'll All Be Free"), Smokey Robinson ("One Like You"), the legendary Bill Withers (a newly-composed "A Telephone Call Away" - sung with Donny's daughter Lalah Hathaway), Joe White ("Rainy Night in Georgia" - a hit for Brook Benton), Rod Temperton ("Family Reunion")and Christopher Cross ("Sailing").

Fans of Benson's pleasant voice will be pleased that he sings on every track of this polished production, but the overly smooth arrangements don't bring anything new to these tunes and fail for the most part to generate much heat. His duet with Brown on "Nothin' But a Party" is funky fun, while "One Like You" and "Family Reunion" recall Benson's "Give Me the Night" era mix of R&B and pop, but for fans of Benson's guitar work the best tracks include "Exotica," "Rainy Night in Georgia" and Lamont Dozier's wonderful "Living in High Definition, " where Benson stretches out and shows flashes of his still potent guitar mastery.

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