After a number of recent recordings that were average at best, George Benson has released his best recording in well over a decade. Guitar Man reminds everyone that George Benson used to be considered the finest guitarist of his generation. An exceptional melodic improviser of the highest level and refinement, Benson plays his heart out, and the result will most certainly be one of the top 10 discs of not just this year, but probably this coming decade.
On the solo electric guitar version of "Tenderly," which opens the disc, we are instantly reminded of just how much of a monster Benson is on his guitar. While his previous recording of this tune, with McCoy Tyner among others on the 1989 disc of the same title, is a wonderful musical statement, here Benson shows not just chops but also a boatload of taste in his whisperingly beautiful translucent lines. Dashing up scales here and flying down harmonically driven conceptualizations there, his ample technique is always subservient to the musical intent. Here, instead of a small combo as on the 1989 recording, Benson lays out the melody with a wonderfully warm and eloquent solo rendition which serves as an incredible introduction to the festivities that follow.
On Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour" Benson's soulfully laced vocals are the perfect accent to his guitar in the same way his vocals served the same function back on 1976's "This Masquerade" from Breezin'. Not aiming for a pop hit, his perfectly intoned vocal phrases work to bring out the lyric's concepts rather than forcing the issue as he did on many of his more recently recorded vocalisms. The result, because of its heartfelt performance, may well be a hit; audiences always recognize truthfulness, and this cut has it in aces.
On the incredible instrumental version of "I Want To Hold Your Hand," easily the best single track Benson has recorded in over two decades, the med-tempo ballad tempo swings with a delight so many of today's young jazz firebrands can't even begin to approach. The backing strings don't just remind one of his monster instrumental hit "Breezin'," they even quote it at one point. Benson has always had a great feeling for Lennon/McCartney material, witness his wonderful 1970 The Other Side Of Abbey Road recording. Throughout this cut Benson plays blues-scale influenced lines that linger in the mind well past the end of the multiple repeated playings of this track you will program into your CD player.
This disc is incredible. Maybe it's because Benson left the high productions values out, instead recording most of the album with a live band; one listen to his version of "Tequila" will reinforce this concept and remind you that he can rock out with the best of them. Benson even picks up the acoustic guitar on his cover of "Don't Know Why" which is, simply fantastic.
Can you imagine what Benson could have produced in the last 15 years if he had followed this album's formula more regularly? Thankfully, Benson has reminded us of just how great a masterful musician he is before it was too late.