Jonathan Butler

Jonathan

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For close to two decades, the vibrant South African singer/songwriter Jonathan Butler has become so well known for his impassioned vocals that it's easy to take his formidable guitar talents for granted. Most of his recordings include a few light acoustic guitar instrumentals amid a gathering of more memorable vocals, but on the Jonathan collection -- his debut for Rendezvous, an indie label co-owned by saxman Dave Koz -- Butler reverses the trend, to pleasing effect. It's hardly surprising that, despite the likeable instrumentals, smooth jazz radio gravitated first to his robust cover of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain," one of two songs featuring lead vocals. But fans eager to see his melodic, romantic acoustic guitar side will be pleased with the memorable pieces that dominate the set -- which compare favorably to the kind of smooth jazz tunes popularized by guitarist Peter White. Most of these are of a festive nature, from the coolly exotic opener, "Rio," to the joyful, bouncy ode to his homeland, which rings very authentic to his optimistic indigenous spirit. "Spirit of Our Nation," featuring daughter Jodie Butler on backing vocals, perhaps most beautifully blends Butler's spiritual and smooth sides. This disc won't make fans forget that he's a great vocalist, first and foremost, but it's good to see him try some new things that listeners can have fun with.

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