George Benson Goes Walking to New Orleans

This album provides pure listening pleasure from the opening beat to the last as George Benson purrs through this collection of songs from the two much admired and influential titans of early rock’n’roll and demonstrates not only his versatility but also what an excellent singer and superb guitar player he is.  The only gripe I have with this collection is that only including 10 songs is a bit stingy to say the least; even extending the original 2-minute gems with additional instrumental sections leaves the collection a little on the light side.  All of which is to say I was left wanting more and would be more than happy to hear that volumes 2-10 are coming down the tracks. 

The song selection has stayed pretty mainstream, mainly going for familiar rather than deeper, more obscure cuts (although “Havana Moon” by Chuck could just about qualify as one of the latter at a push, and now I think about it, I wasn’t really familiar with Fat’s “Rockin’ Chair” so, some less well known).  The  arrangements retain all the familiar elements of the brilliant originals – no wild reimagining going on here – while adding a smoothly swinging and hugely enjoyable groove to each track with tight horn accompaniment and the light touch of Mr Benson’s gossamer guitar work, recorded under the skillful hand of long time Joe Bonamassa (among many others) collaborator, producer Kevin Shirley.

On opening number “Nadine”, which rattles along nicely, George throws in a few bars of scat singing in unison with his guitar mid-way through, before the horns come back in with the song’s distinctive hook line.  His guitar playing, when he solos later during the track is a tasty slice of blues-based licks, with a distinctively jazzy tinge, rather than Berry style double stops. “Ain’t That A Shame” has all the familiar pushes and stops plus extended barreling piano soloing and a tasteful guitar solo, again with some scat singing in the second half as the horns keep the sass factor high in the background; a sax solo takes the third solo.  The refrain of the chorus is boosted by some enthusiastic female backing vocals.  The aforementioned “Rockin Chair” rocks with the horn section again prominent.  “You Can’t Catch Me” is played at a faster tempo than the original and perhaps the horns are a little bit more Vegas backing band than the tight soul revue heard on other tracks.  “Havana Moon” is a song I love, maybe because it’s so unlike other Berry numbers, as much for its odd rhythm, augmented here by a string arrangement that emphasise the song’s other worldly quality.  Very nice.   The Fats’ tunes are all given a rolling New Orleans feel that the big man himself would no doubt approve of; “I Hear You Knocking”, “Blue Monday” and “Walking to New Orleans” have an easy swagger and are very easy on the ear.  The Chuck Berry songs provide a more upbeat and slightly rougher contrast to the mellow roll of the Fats’ numbers; Memphis Tennessee is a joyful groove featuring some chickin’ pickin’ guitar work while closing number “How You’ve Changed” represents the more rootsy and lesser known side of Berry with a late night, propping up the bar, slow blues lament. George Benson will definitely have changed many peoples’ opinion of him with this change in direction and really enjoyable take on some well-known numbers.  It will be interesting to see what other selections he makes from the extensive back catalogue of these two giants when he appears at the Hammersmith Apollo in July. 

EIGHTpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Tracklisting

  1. Nadine (Is It You)
  2. Ain’t That A Shame
  3. Rockin’ Chair
  4. You Can’t Catch Me
  5. Havana Moon
  6. I Hear You Knocking
  7. Memphis, Tennessee
  8. Walking To New Orleans
  9. Blue Monday
  10. How You’ve Changed
  11. George Benson Goes Walking to New Orleans

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