George Benson: Songs and Stories

RIYL: Anything that’s smooth jazz

When you have ten Grammys, it can’t be easy to keep making award-winning music, but George Benson may do just that with his latest, Songs and Stories. Admitting that he keeps things fresh by focusing on the basics, a.k.a., songs and the stories that make up those songs, Benson dug into the material of some of his favorite songwriters, including James Taylor, Smokey Robinson, Bill Withers and Donnie Hathaway – and even had some other tracks specifically written for this project. Then what Benson brings to the table is what he does best: play the guitar like a tasty madman and deliver soulful and pitch-perfect vocals. Some of the highlights are the Al Jarreau-ish “Show Me the Love” which was written by project producer Marcus Miller as well as Toto’s David Lukather and David Paich; the bluesy “Come In from the Cold,” written by Marc Broussard, Radney Foster and Justin Tocket; and a take on Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” that will remind you of Benson’s “Breezin’” days. And of course Benson does a terrific job on the opening track, James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” which sounds like it could and should be a ubiquitous smooth jazz staple. George doesn’t ever disappoint, and he surely doesn’t here. (Concord 2009)

George Benson website


Straight No Chaser: Holiday Spirits

There is something about a ten-piece vocal group that just lends itself to holiday music. Straight No Chaser is such a group, and after forming over ten years ago at Indiana University, this group became YouTube darlings last year with their hilarious and compelling version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Atlantic Records chairman Craig Kallman was one of those who liked what he saw; the rest is history, as Holiday Spirits is the group’s debut on Atlantic. But these guys are no one-hit wonder, because this collection of traditional holiday songs and a few originals blend together beautifully, and are delivered with an amazing vocal flair that rivals the likes of Take 6. Some of the highlights are Donnie Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” “Carol of the Bells,” and of course “The 12 Days of Christmas,” a live version that shows the group’s morphing into a medley of holiday songs, culminating in a clever use of the lyrics to “12 Days” to the tune of Toto’s “Africa.” But to have original songs rival the traditional stuff is not easy, and Straight No Chaser pulls it off with ease, particularly on the stunning “Indiana Christmas.” This one is a must-have this holiday season. (Atlantic 2008)

Straight No Chaser MySpace Page