U-Nam

Back from the 80's

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Because this vibrant, super funky Parisian born and based guitarist (real name, Emmanuel Abiteboul) was born in 1970, it's likely he didn't hear some of the classic songs he's covering here -- and drawing inspiration from for the exciting originals -- until the next decade. But from the big horn opening, the disco-fied thump and old-school atmospheres of the first single and leadoff track, a cover of the Crusaders' "Street Life," it's clear that he's all about a '70s retro-soul groove. To that effect, he brings in the master of that vibe, Jeff Lorber, to add his sparkling Rhodes to the track that begins the disc's overall time travel seduction. When he's not giving direct shout-outs to his pop and jazz inspirations via cool and lively covers of classics by Lionel Richie (OK, "Love Will Find a Way" is from 1983), George Benson ("Turn Your Love Around"), and Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway ("Where Is the Love?," which begins in a Stevie Wonder funk mode before easing into a crisp, midtempo vibe), U-Nam is creating joyful and breezy originals that pay homage to his guitar heroes Benson and Wes Montgomery. "Breezin' M.A," which borrows its title from Benson's breakthrough mid-'70s, instrumental hit, is a pure instrumental disco delight, its dance-pop mindset enhanced by U-Nam's effortless, speedy improvisations. Memorable original tracks like "Keep the Faith," "Slowdown," and the lushly orchestrated "Mister GB" are also guitar-driven, but remind listeners of the old days with clicking rhythm guitars and the Rhodes and B-3 magic of the guitarist's writing partner Franck Sitbon. In addition to ensembling with some of his fellow countrymen and a unit called the Paris Horns, U-Nam also works with some of L.A.'s top session guys, including percussionist Paulinho Da Costa and drummer Michael White. Soul singer Maysa Leak's wordless vocalizing and Andy Narell's always welcome steel pan touches add some exotica to another winning, heavily brassy track, "From Overseas." Smooth jazz fans who can't wait for the next Chris Standring or Norman Brown discs would be the first folks who would love this original guitarist with an even more unique name.

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