George Benson

Irreplaceable

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A few decades ago, when the release of a George Benson album was an event for either jazz guitar or R&B vocal enthusiasts, his projects indeed lived up to the album title he employs here. While the new collection probably won't be an essential part of the Benson enthusiast's library, it's fun to see him trying to stay in the post-millennial urban groove hip with some of the younger generation's top songwriter/producers like Joshua Thompson (who's produced for O-Town, Aretha Franklin, and Babyface) and Joe. Those who wish he'd remember his prowess as a jazz guitarist have to content themselves with its general background capacity behind pleasant romantic vocal textures and easy grooving hip-hop shuffle grooves. Fortunately, Benson's in particularly fine voice, and most of the hooks are catchy from the get go. Conceptually, the best tunes are "Six Play" (which we soon realize is a love song to his six-string) and "Cell Phone," which postulates the idea that God and our late loved ones are accessible by wireless. There are a few stylistic deviations from the basic cool formula here, most notably the gospel-tinged "Whole Man," and the lush, gently exotic, flamenco-flavored soul tune "Strings of Love." The hope is that Benson's collaborations with the hipsters will expose his legendary talents to the kids who might otherwise shy away from the charms of an elder statesman.

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