Walking To New Orleans
George Benson has performed many tribute songs (Wes Montgomery) and whole albums + shows (Nat King Cole) as well as working with the Count Basie Orchestra and just generally tipping his hat to the blues and jazz of the past. But here he steps out into the rock’n’roll that came from blues and boogie with a split tribute album acknowledging both Chuck Berry and Fats Domino.
It’s a fun listen. It works. There are moments where it’s genuinely sublime in fact. And though I had a hard time the first listen just getting my head around the erstwhile Lil’ Georgie Benson now howling out in a rockin’ growl – it’s actually great how un-George Benson this is; a magic trick…. until you hear that familiar guitar. Those creamy, dreamy solos are still there and that’s where some of the true magic arrives. Benson’s signature scat-vocalese and guitar work takes over-covered songs like Ain’t That A Shame to new places.
So, it’s a pretty even split between Fats and Chuck – with Berry represented by Memphis Tennessee, You Can’t Catch Me, Havana Moon, Nadine (Is It You?) and How You’ve Changed and Domino referenced with the title track and Ain’t That A Shame as well as versions of I Hear You Knocking, Rockin’ Chair and Blue Monday.
On the latter Benson’s vocal is tremendous.
But other players have plenty of chance to shine. It’s a crack Nashville session band walking towards New Orleans – including bassist Alison Prestwood, drummer Greg Morrow, pianist Kevin McKendree and guitarist Rob McNelley. McKendree’s playing is pure Johnnie Johnson when it needs to be and carries some of the feel of Fats too. His gently massaged solo on the closing rendition of How You’ve Changed is one of the true joys of this recording.
It’s been six or seven years since the last Benson studio album and he just doesn’t really age on record. Where, sometimes, he’s seemed too slick it’s very clear his heart is in this. And it should provide a few nice surprises even for lifelong fans. I’ve grown up a fan of George Benson my whole life and while I instantly recognise his guitar on the title track’s gorgeous solo and in fact any time he plays it here I’m still surprised by just how winning this tribute album is. Check it out.
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