Brook Benton

At His Best [Pair]

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As Brook Benton's career-defining platters were still a few years down the road, At His Best (1959) is more of an eye-catching moniker rather than a true representation of Benton's (vocals) highest-charting and most warmly received songs. The dozen selections on this compilation are derived from recordings cut during his brief mid-'50s run on the R&B-centric Okeh and the comparatively middle of the road Epic labels. After beginning his career as a gospel singer, Benton teamed with a young Quincy Jones -- who had recently been in Lionel Hampton's touring aggregate as a trumpet player. Jones -- a freelancer at the time -- cooked up scores to Benton's own swinging midtempo "Can I Help It" and "Ooh," which is one of the sides featuring Benton along with support by the Sandmen. It didn't take long however before Benton's smooth and supple leads gained significant recognition and he was soon given full artist credit. By late 1955, Four Lads and latter-era Billie Holiday arranger Ray Ellis began working on a handful of Benton sessions. Gathering material from a variety of styles and genres, he admittedly attempted to appeal to the widest possible audience. "Rock 'n' Roll That Rhythm (All Nite Long)" is a lightweight proto-pop number with definite roots steeped in big band, evidenced by Ellis' horn-driven charts. The bluesy ballad "Partners for Life" and the upbeat crooner's delight "Bring Me Love" are among the better offerings from the Ellis/Benton pairing. It was veteran guitarist and composer Leroy Kirkland who seems to have had the best concept to provide a suitable outlet for Benton. Rather than re-form him into a rocker or the figurehead of a vocal combo, Kirkland's ideas are more along the lines of Johnny Mathis. "The Wall" allows Benton a chance to display his considerably soulful chops, while the Benton-penned "Anything for You," "Tell Me," and "Give Me a Sign" point squarely in the direction that his career would take several years later. After signing with Mercury, he unleashed a torrent of Top 40 hits that would include the signatures "It's Just a Matter of Time," "So Many Ways," and "Kiddo" -- none of which are found here.

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