GEORGE BENSON: The Essential Collection (Music Club/Rhino)

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George Benson is set to release a brand new album. The PR people tell us that the ‘Guitar Man’ LP sees George return to the guitar jazz sound that he perfected before “defecting” to the mainstream with a series of wonderfully accessible Warner Brothers albums after he’d signed with that label in 1975. How fitting then that there’s this ‘Essential Collection’ of WB material on offer at the same time.

The two CD, 32 tracker is a great retrospective of those Warner Bros years and, yes, there’s plenty of those sweet and sugary ballads that allow serious critics to point the “sell out” finger but for every ‘Nothing’s Going To Change My Love For You’ there’s a ‘Valdez In The Country’ and even stuff that those serious jazz types deride as “smooth” (I’m thinking stuff like ‘Breezin” and George’s takes on ‘Soulful Strut’ and ‘Living Inside Your Love’) have much more bite than most of that derided genre ever offers.

Equally there’s plenty of stuff that will forever merit the “classic” tag – ‘Give Me The Night’, ‘Love X Love’ and ‘Turn Your Love Around’ amongst them and when George got down to it he could still out-jazz the jazzers. His versions of ‘The World Is A Ghetto’, ‘Nature Boy’ and ‘On Broadway’, for instance, still sound truly innovative. The plain fact is that George Benson just makes/made great music and if some of it happens to be commercial and makes him real money .. so what? This is a great collection and available at a great price and we’ll offer our considered judgement on ‘Guitar Man’ very soon.

(BB) 4/5