Like the Christmas album, most long serving recording artists feel the need sometime or other to have a bash at the Bacharach/David songbook. It might well be a well chosen cover or two on a new long player or it might be a whole album of the duo’s best songs… and it’s that latter path that South African singer/guitarist Jonathan Butler has chosen to tread for his latest project. ‘Close To You’ (bit of clue there) is JB’s homage to one of the most influential writing teams of the modern era… well almost. You see the 11 tracker has an odd cuckoo in the nest… a new tune, penned by Butler, called ‘Cape Town’ – a bright and breezy vocal tribute to the South African city.
There seems to be no explanation as to why it sits amidst ten Bacharach/David songs… but there you have it… odd. And what of the Bacharach/David covers? Well if you’re covering old chestnuts there seems to be two choices…. a faithful rendition based on well-known versions or a completely new treatment. By and large Butler opts for the second choice. In truth he doesn’t go the whole hog as, say Luther Vandross did. Luther was beloved for his deconstructing the songs and building radical new versions; Jonathan treats his choices with a little more respect but he does offer fresh arrangements bringing a new perspective to the very familiar…. sometimes it works… sometimes it doesn’t.
The set gets off to a great start with a samba styled look at ‘Do You Know The Way To San Jose’. The beats shuffle beautifully allowing Butler’s guitar to deliver the lovely melody with sparking panache. The cover of ‘I Say Am Little Prayer’ works well too and I’m always impressed by ‘Alfie’. It’s such a great song (Bacharach’s own favourite… do yourself a favour… dig out his heart-rending version).
Less impressive is the up-tempo cover of ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’ ; it quite loses the ironic pathos of what, I think, was originally intended. Two other classics – ‘Close To You’ and ‘Walk On By’ become meanders rather than concise paeans to love and loss respectively. The other included songs are ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’, ‘The Look Of Love’ and ‘What The World Needs Now’.. all a bit predictable. Maybe if Mr Butler had chosen some less well-known Burt B songs, we might have had a more exciting/intriguing collection.