Back in 1976 George Benson, no less, wrote that acoustic guitarist Earl Klugh “will by his own merits become one of the most important voices on the guitar in the 70s”. Well, we all know that good old George was spot on as the young Detroiter’s first two albums notched up top 20 placing on the American jazz charts with the second effort – the lovely ‘Living Inside Your Love’ – even denting the R&B charts. Klugh went on to become a star and album after album (including some big name collaborations) reinforced that status.
Surprisingly, perhaps, he’s not been best served by the reissue labels … till now, as BGO Records bring together three significant Klugh LPs in a two CD pack. They are – 1977’s ‘Finger Paintings’, ’79’s ‘Heart String’ and ‘Wishful Thinking’ from 1984. They show an artist at the top of his game – crafting an instantly recognizable sound that many since have copied but few have bettered. The hallmark of Klugh’s sound is the effortless simplicity which imbues all his work.
The ‘Finger Paintings’ album (originally released on the iconic Blue Note label) is a perfect summation of all that was good about Klugh at that period with the plaintive ‘Catherine’ defining what he stood for. ‘Dr Macumba’ and a sprightly cover of Orleans’ ‘Dance With Me’ are noteworthy too. ‘Heart String’ came out on the United Artists label and though self produced (‘Finger Paintings was helmed by Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen) the gentle soundscape is essentially the same with the album’s title track stealing the album honours. ‘Wishful Thinking’ was released on Capitol Records and though issued some seven years after ‘Finger Paintings’ its sonic template is much the same – gentle, laid back, uncluttered, melodic, deceptively simple – though there’s a Caribbean flavour about ‘Tropical Legs’ and ‘All The Time’.
Fans will welcome this triple reissue and for those who may be unaware of Earl Klugh’s significance the set is an excellent starter pack. Sleeve notes come courtesy of SJF’s Charles Waring who succinctly as ever takes us through all the music and relevant background. He also sums up the guitarist’s importance; “Though he was unaware of it at the time, Klugh – together with like minded musicians such as Bob James, David Sanborn and Grover Washington Jr – ushered in a gentle, musical revolution of mellow-vibed instrumental mood music that was the stylistic forerunner to smooth jazz”.