Although he is a mainstay of smooth jazz charts and radio schedules, Jeff Golub belongs to one of the genre’s precursors rather than the fully formed beast itself. If you remember albums by the likes of Cornell Dupree or Eric Gale, session men occasionally let out of the shadows to do their thing, then the feel of this recording will be familiar. Which is to say that Do It Again mostly consists of highly competent instrumental versions of well-known tunes, all with a strong ‘60s/‘70s funk-soul feel to them. The resultant sound is easy on the ear, a little unadventurous but beautifully crafted, with the distinct bonus of Golub’s penchant for blues-drenched guitar licks.
Golub has a crisp, clean style that owes something to ‘60s blues-rock, something to Wes Montgomery and a lot to a long career as session man and sideman to various rock and soul acts. Before the SJ boom brought him fame in his own right, he was probably best known as Rod Stewart’s guitarist of choice between 1988 and 1995. On the evidence here, Stewart’s taste was better than his output in that period suggests. What is especially impressive is that while Golub is very much the dominant voice (his guitar is hardly ever silent), he manages to remain economical and understated. Other axe-men could profit greatly from his example. Producer Rick Braun and an excellent band add authority to what is, after a shaky start, a very solid set indeed.
That initial wobble comes firstly from a lackluster take on AWB’s “Cut the Cake”, no masterpiece in the original. That sub-JBs style, which everyone once thought so impressive, has not worn well and this flat reading does not help. Matters don’t improve much with the saloon car cassette anthem “On the Beach”—acceptable if you like the tune but a little redolent of the elevator or shopping mall. From then on, though, it’s plain sailing as Golub dusts off the classics and settles into a tight and very tasty groove.
Whether in mellow or funky mode, Golub (with solid support, particularly from keyboardist Mitchel Foreman and drummer Steve Ferrone) exudes composure and clarity. Purposeful, well-executed and enviably assured, he strolls delightfully through Smokey’s “Cruisin’” and then Stevie’s “Jesus Children of America”—bending notes and chopping block chords with enthusiasm and great aplomb. Phil Upchurch could hardly do better.
A brief vocal interlude follows thanks to a fine, if rather stiff-collared, “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” (sung by Sue Ann Carwell”). Then it’s back to the groove. Eddie Harris’ “Cold Duck Time” is a roadhouse boogie with real kick. Golub even manages to coax some gutsy blowing from Gerald Allbright as the two trade riffs and hooks with much gruff affection. Unashamedly retro but fresh and full of life.
I was worried when I saw “Turn Off the Lights” and “Mercy, Mercy Me” on the menu. Happily, Golub does both the Philly smoocher to end Philly smoochers and one of Marvin’s finest moments proud. Thanks to his easy artistry, the former retains its status as sweet soul personified while the latter emerges as respectful but evocative in its own right. I’d like to hear Golub in the studio with some of today’s better male vocalists. He could possibly do for Hollister or Jaheim what Wah-Wah Watson or Melvin Raglin did for their ‘70s counterparts.
A skin-tight “Cold Sweat” and a country-style “Crazy Love” complete proceedings. I don’t think the world needs any more James Brown tributes, although this one is better than most. The Van Morrison tune is a revelation though. Rich and emotional, lazy but lush, Golub runs through all his bag of tricks without ever sounding showy or superficial. This track, like most of the album, just oozes warmth.
If you feel in the need of a guitar-led, smooth but not saccharine listening experience, then ignore recent offerings by Larry Carlton or Peter White and treat yourself to the tasteful and tasty sound of Jeff Golub. He is not pushing at any boundaries but he is a craftsman of the first order and his tone and technique are second to none.Do It Again is a pleasant surprise and one that holds up to repeat plays better than any equivalent endeavour this year.
// Notes from the Road
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