Guitar Man is a classy album from Bread which provided David Gates with reason enough to go solo. Just listen to "Aubrey" to hear how the producer/singer/songwriter could create a strong track with little or no help from his fellow musicians. On the other hand, two of his strongest songs, "Sweet Surrender" and "The Guitar Man," are totally products of a band in a groove. The three hits failed to break the Top Ten, though the title track came close, one notch away. It and the sublime "Sweet Surrender" both topped the adult contemporary charts in 1972, while "Aubrey" followed those two titles, going Top 15 itself in early 1973. It would be almost four years before the group would enter the charts for the final time at the end of 1976 with "Lost Without Your Love." That makes Guitar Man the final chapter of the band's first era, three of their 11 hits coming from this volume. The original LP cover featured beautiful off-pastel illustrations by Bob Ziering on rough cardboard without the slick gloss, impressive to the look and touch, while the music inside reflected the professionalism radio programmers and the audience expected to hear from this product. James Griffin and Rob Royer contribute an exceptional "Don't Tell Me No" with that Beatles influence which was part of the group's sound at its onset. But it was the title track and "Sweet Surrender" which were the perfect pop products conceived and delivered by this important act. Similar to the Carpenters number one adult contemporary hit "Goodbye to Love," Bread's "The Guitar Man" featured a blazing guitar outro; a truly smart and effective way to bring syrupy pop music to the attention of rock & roll fans. It was a song with enough bite that it wasn't an embarrassment for the guys to listen to, and was sweet enough to attract the gals. As good as the first track "Welcome to the Music" and closing title "Didn't Even Know Her Name" are as album tracks, the opening wah-wah, folk guitars, string movement, and vocal by David Gates are just so impressive on "The Guitar Man" that there is, musically, no comparison. This is the guy who wrote the Murmaids' number-three hit in 1963, "Popsicles and Icicles," and he certainly crafted a dreamy sound here; those keyboards Manfred Mann used so well in his version of Randy Newman's "Living Without You" match the guitars, combining for a breath of fresh air on early-70s radio. "Tecolote," on the other hand, like the James Griffin/David Gates number "Make It by Yourself" pale in comparison. They are competent album tracks, but they also show the difference between adequate and great. "Make It by Yourself" is a far cry from "Make It With You." Here the band sounds closer to Jonathan Edwards if he joined the group America, or Jon Hall's Orleans, not a bad direction for Bread and something they should have considered. No, it isn't as effective as their middle-of-the-road stuff, but it is superior to the decent material which ends up becoming filler. Had they skillfully balanced "Sweet Surrender with "Make It by Yourself," they could have rivaled the Eagles. That country-rock sound is where this group was heading before they imploded. Too bad, because having Larry Knetchel and David Gates on the same team could have brought more great sounds to radio. Regardless, Guitar Man is an album Bread can be proud of, one which begs the question what would have happened had they not taken so much time off from each other.
AllMusic Review by Joe Viglione