GEORGE BENSON: Walking To New Orleans (Provogue/Mascot)

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In a long and garlanded career, George Benson has released something like 45 LPs. I’ve not heard all of them but I’m guessing that he’s never issued anything like this one before. You see for an artist known for changing direction from time to time, ‘Walking To New Orleans’ is in a direction you’d never imagine Mr B taking. Surprisingly, some might say, the concise 10 tracker is his homage to two of his “musical heroes” – Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and what’s more the set was produced by Kevin “the Caveman” Shirley who’s better known for his work with Iron Maiden …. George Benson and Iron Maiden in the same breath – now that is a change of direction!

Mr B says, “I’m a great appreciator of the music made by both of those guys. Chuck Berry was a great showman and a great musician, and Fats Domino cut nothing but hit after hit after hit.” So here we get George and Kevin’s versions of five songs from each of those music legends. The Berry songs are ‘Nadine’, ‘You Can’t Catch Me’, ‘Havana Moon’, ‘Memphis Tennessee’ and ‘How You’ve Changed’; the Domino offerings are ‘Ain’t That A Shame’, ‘Rockin’ Chair’, ‘I Hear You Knocking’, ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘Walking To New Orleans’ for which the album is named.

The Nashville-recorded soundscape (the album was recorded in that city’s Ocean Way studio) is rough and rocky but tight – a far cry from the lushness of George’s previous long player – his Nat King Cole tribute. Throughout he’s supported by a team of top players (drummer George Morrow, guitar man Rob McNeeley, pianist Kevin McKendree, bassist Alison Prestwood and a joyous brass section) and what they create are versions of well-known songs that are sufficiently different to the originals to sustain interest throughout. On most of the tracks (most obvious on ‘Nadine’) Benson gets to deliver his signature scat/guitar breaks while the guitar riffing on the famous Chuck Berry numbers is in the manner of Benson rather than Berry.

Most importantly George and his team manage to capture the honest enthusiasm and spirit of the originals while on the Berry numbers all the humour and irony is retained … catch ‘You Can’t Catch Me’ to hear what I mean.

On completing the album Benson was heard to say: ““We did have us a ball!“…. Listen in and you won’t disagree.

‘Walking To New Orleans’ is released on April 26th.

(BB) 4/5