George Benson first came to prominence in the 60s as a powerhouse jazz guitarist. As time progressed, he flavoured his work with pop, rock and blues influences. The culmination was 1976's Breezin, the first ever jazz album to go platinum.
Tracks like "Give Me the Night" (1983), took him further into the pop mainstream before he moved back towards jazz classics in the 90s. Now, with little in the way of warning, he's released Irreplaceable,an R&B album aimed at his grandchildren's generation.
The rationale may start to make sense if you bear in mind that Benson has always felt most comfortable making music thatpeoplecan connect with. Add the artist's enthusiasm for exploring his medium, regardless of boundaries, and you can just about see where he's coming from.
The other major player here is producer and songwriter Joshua Thompson - a man notable for success with the likes of Alicia Keys and Tyrese. An outstanding guitarist in his own right, Thompson obviously spotted the potential of George's jazz licks within the R&B idiom.
Heavy on vocal harmonies and with ultra clean computer percussion, this album is absolutely urban. The first track, "Cell Phone", a mid-tempo duet with Andrea Simmons,is pleasant, if unremarkable. The second, "Whole Man" further explores the mobile phone theme with its tale of a guy who had fifty ladies on Auto-Dial only to realise he wanted just one. Old style Benson fans spot the problem...?
Reflecting the way your target audience chooses to communicate is one thing but there's no way, these days at least, that George can convince me he's a gigolo. Learning to programme his Auto-Dial, frankly, requires a stretch of the imagination.
By the time we get to the title track, which finds Benson's heart "bangin like an 808", it's all starting to sound a bit daft. Thompson has laced this album liberally with the artist's exceptional guitar playing and that works. However, if the songwriting serves the musician, it singularly fails to understand the man. The result is slick and pretty but shockingly bereft of genuine expression. --Andrew McGregor
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