George Benson

Standing Together

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Having achieved monstrous success as both a pop vocalist and electric guitarist, George Benson spends most of his albums switching back and forth between crooning over easy soul grooves and gracefully invoking the spirit of Wes Montgomery, the forerunner of the snappy "Breezin'" Benson string style. On Standing Together, he finds his most distinctive voice as an inventive scat vocalist somewhere in the middle of these two modes -- a technique he employs effectively here over brisk guitar licks on the best tracks, the retro-funky, densely percussive "Cruise Control" and the seductive Latin waltz "Poquito Spanish, Poquito Funk." Smooth jazz super-producer Paul Brown adds two clever touches to this latter track: a few brief symphonic washes and a soaring chant vocal behind the scat. The subtle soul Brown has given to a large handful of the genre's successful artists comes across best on the hooky "Fly by Night," which sounds like a great Boney James tune, only with Benson's guitar rather than sax in the lead. The set is bookended by the gentler guitar meditations "C-Smooth" and "Keep Rollin'," which don't challenge his catalog but are likeable enough. Between these standout cuts, however, Benson plays it pretty safe, functioning mostly as a lead vocalist on fluffy, easygoing romances he didn't write, like the title track and "Back to Love." "All I Know" is a far cry from "On Broadway," but as on that classic performance, Benson mixes a passionate lead vocal with the scat interludes listeners never quite get tired of.

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