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Friday, November 18, 2011

George Benson: Guitar Man

O, fates!  Why do you bless certain people with awe-inspiring talent and brilliant drive to succeed, only to give them questionable taste in how they USE that gift?

Why did Eddie Murphy make The Klumps?

And why must guitarist George Benson make mushy, hum-drum music?

Guitar Man is the latest from Benson (read my full PopMatters review HERE), and it's partly brilliant and mostly mush.  It starts with a tour de force on acoustic guitar: a solo rendering of the standard “Tenderly”. Astonishing, precise, neither too ornate nor too plain, tasteful, invincible. George Benson, Guitarman? Yes. He’s back, and in stellar form.

But then you get to the second track, which is precisely the kind of thing you were fearing—a de-toothing of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” that is so schlocky that rock fans cannot even recognize the melody. A string section, some soothing woodwinds, soft-focus production, simplistic back-beat drumming that lacks the force of rock, the swing of jazz or the deep pocket of soul. Muzak, ack. There’s a dramatic key change toward the end that gilds the lily. Through it all, Benson plays amazing licks, most certainly, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a disaster.

And on it goes with this record.  A sparkling acoustic "Danny Boy" or a small-group take on Coltrane's "Naima", nice.  A cheesy "Tequila" (a la Wes Montgomery, presumably) or a soft-centered "Lady in My Life" (from Thriller).  The good stuff is short, and the terrible stuff is not short enough.

Hearing George Benson play the guitar is still astonishing.  And Eddie Murphy is still a very very funny man.  But what difference does it make if they are content to muddle forward making middle-of-the-road pablum?

O fates.

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