JONATHAN BUTLER: So Strong (Label: Rendezvous)

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It makes you feel really old when you learn that ‘So Strong’ is Jonathan Butler’s 15th solo album! It can’t be too long ago when he was debuting on Jive Records… can it? Well, clearly it is and lots of water has flown under everyone’s bridges since those heady days and for Butler the last few years have been particularly hard. But though he’s lost very close family and friends (his mother and Wayman Tisdale) and his wife has been battling cancer, Jonathan’s religion and faith has carried him through and allowed him to create a wonderful new album that celebrates life and offers opportunities (for those who seek them)to reflect on how God might inspire us. It’s for that latter reason, I think, that he’s chosen Johnny Nash’s ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ as the album’s only cover. I never liked the original (or Gladys Knight’s version) and this new take still doesn’t convince me. Butler slows it right down to make the point that maybe the problems he’s faced were put there to allow him to eventually see the way forward. However, it’s all just a bit too lugubrious, but, happily, it’s the LP’s only disappointment and the skip button can allow you to focus on all the other great music – like the album’s title cut which is already making big waves on the radio and in the clubs. The tune is very much “up” and it’s the perfect summer vibe. Yes, in the original mix there’s’ more than a hint of George Benson about it – but that’s no bad thing. The ‘Steppers Mix’ is a little more restrained while the closing ‘Urban A C Mix’ is brash and big … lovely. ‘Feel’s so Good’ is another welcome summery groove while the looser ‘Color Green’ has a feel of Stevie W to it. Biggest surprise on the set though is the wonderful duet with Angie Stone – ‘Be Here With You’. Some, I know, consider Jonathan Butler a vocal lightweight but his input on this old school soul ballad is superb. The man’s guitar mastery has never been in doubt and here it shines on a quartet of instrumentals that could all become mainstays of smooth jazz radio. ‘I Pay Respect’, in particular, is a classic quiet storm moment. Throughout the album, Butler is supported by people like Dave Koz, Michael Lington and Rick Braun while his daughters – Randy and Jodie – provide excellent backing vocals. A strong team, then, and a very strong album…
(BB) 4/5