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Album Review: Jonathan
Jonathan Butler
Cover image of the album Jonathan by Jonathan Butler
Jonathan Butler
2005 / Rendezvous
45 minutes
Review by Michael Debbage
For those of you less familiar with the Smooth Jazz genre, Jonathan Butler has been a mainstay artist in this field. The unique talent of Butler is that he is equally at home as an R&B crooner as well as a guitar extraordinaire with his sweet yet stylistic instrumentals. Largely, his focus has been the voice yet this time around, with the exception of two vocal tracks, Jonathan is all about Butler the guitar man and without a doubt this is Butler’s best to date.

Our shores were introduced to this African musician back in 1986 courtesy of Introducing Jonathan Butler. It was loaded with instrumental exercises that had the free flowing melodies similar to that of Earl Klugh, Butler showed a greater flare but not for the sake of showboating. Also impressive were his vocal chants that accentuated George Benson influences. His follow up effort Jonathan Butler focused on his vocal talents and the double album only included five instrumentals. A fine effort, the album was a smash hit and pressed Jonathan into the world of R&B and further away from the intriguing instrumentals that he was effortlessly capable of creating.

With the exception of his 1990 EP Deliverance, it appeared that his voice had become a priority over his guitar. However, the arrival of Jonathan changes all that. Needless to say this album exudes the exotic flavor that was present on his early recordings and is a pure joy and pleasure to listen to. Surprisingly, the album opens with the very safe and sanitized Smooth Jazz exploration of “Rio”. Though it does include a fine duet performance with trumpeter Rick Braun this particular track is not indicative of the remaining portions of this outstanding album. Much the same can be said for the closer “Move Me” that features Gerald Albright on saxophone.

Otherwise, the music is less sanitized and really picks up on the second track when our ears are introduced to the celebrative and danceable “Mandela Bay”. The song sways like palm trees in a soft but consistent tropical island breeze along the coastal shores of white sands and blue seas. Much the same can be said about the more moderately paced “Sweet Island Love” that includes sound effects of steel drums most likely from the keyboards of Greg Wachter.

Speaking of the keyboards, while they are not prominent, Greg’s’ jazzy yet unobtrusive piano embellishments mesh perfectly with Butlers fluttering fingers over his frets on “Precious Things”. Add some lush string arrangements and this interesting ballad intensifies the romantic dynamic. While on that subject matter, there is the soulful yet stripped down mellow magic of “For A Friend” that will fill your heart with love. It is here that you can almost hear Butler’s guitar weep. Equally as quixotic is the playful “Randy’s Song” that features David Koz on saxophone. There are some similarities in the melody of Sting’s “Fields Of Gold” and we all know the strength of that particular composition so no more need be said.

For those of you that truly enjoy Jonathan’s vocals, there is the cover version of James Taylor’s “Fire And Ice” and the enchanting “Baby Love”. Both songs remind the listen that this perplexing singer and guitarist is equally talented in both arenas. In fact, “Fire And Ice” has received some significant airplay on the nations Wave stations.

For those of you seeking the crooner, the cd’s two vocal tracks may not suffice. But if you have been waiting for Butler to deliver a full-length album much in the style of his 1990 EP Deliverance then this is the place to let your ears hear. Borrowing from George Harrison, while Butler knows how to make his guitar gently weep, he has also perfected its laugh. Gentle, joyful and optimistic, Jonathan delivers it all. That said, Jonathan represents not only Butler’s tour de force but, in fact, embodies one of 2005’s finest releases.
May 28, 2011
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