George Benson: Absolute Benson

George Benson
Absolute Benson

George Benson’s music has always been eclectic. He’s had many agreeable R&B and pop hits, including a cover of “On Broadway,” by the Drifters, which was memorably used in the opening sequence of Bob Fosse’s film All That Jazz.

This instrumental (mostly-only three songs have vocals) album mixes and matches Benson’s pop, R&B, and jazz influences to create something which is only, merely nice. At some point, someone is going to have to write at length about where and when “contemporary jazz” crosses the line between being mellow but interesting, and being sonic wallpaper. Tastefully played, impeccable in all ways, but lacking in fire.

One hesitates to fault Benson. His guitar playing flashes with electricity, and he is possessed of a fine, bluesy voice that compliments it superbly. It is a joy merely to hear Benson play guitar and sing in many ways; he’s that good. But even more I’d love to hear what he could do within a more up-to-date framework. Alternatively, a true Benson solo album, with nothing but his voice and guitar, could be great. If you are a Benson fan, or just one who appreciate good guitar playing and singing, you’ll find this album works as a feature for both, particularly the latter. Even when not singing, Benson is melodic, but the instrumentation behind him doesn’t give the grounding to really soar.

Good accompaniment for a soloist can be hard to find. If the parts don’t mesh well, it’s not going to be as good (there’s a metaphor which I could have gone for there, but I’m trying to keep this tasteful). The keyboard and groove settings here, even with the keyboards soulfully played by Joe Sample, cross that line between being ethereal and vanishing into thin air.

If you could separate the guitar parts and singing from the backing tracks, it would be like watching a close-up magician dazzle you with sleight of hand. As it is, it’s like watching that same magician try to do his stuff while Siegfried and Roy do their glitzy tractor pull of a show around him. You can still tell how good he is, but you can’t help but be distracted and overwhelmed by the white tigers and fireworks going on around him.

This album, finally, inspires what is probably the worst of all reactions to an artistic effort. Yeah? So?