No one should be surprised if HandPicked becomes one of guitarist Earl Klugh’s most successful recordings, and not merely because it’s mostly a standards collection, which somehow still remains a career tactic capable of boosting album sales.
Unlike some of Klugh’s chart successes over the years, HandPicked aims to please without seeming overtly calculated. Sure, guest appearances by Vince Gill, Bill Frisell and Jake Shimabukuro will help draw some interest and perhaps pique a little curiosity (uke virtuoso Shimabukuro’s nimble showcase is “Hotel California”). But each duet reveals a natural rapport, especially the evocative Klugh-Frisell rendering of “Blue Moon.” You can’t listen to this collaboration, an album highlight, without thinking the two guitarists should share studio time more often.
Mostly, though, Klugh goes his own way, alone and quietly, playing fingerstyle nylon-string guitar arrangements that are melodically appealing. While Klugh has several well-known composers to thank for that—George Shearing, Vince Guaraldi, Thelonious Monk, Lennon and McCartney, among others—he brings a lyrical touch to arrangements that are often more complex and nuanced than they first appear. All told, there are 16 performances, including a few appealing original pieces, and if the tune choices are sometimes overly familiar (“Alfie,” “If I Fell,” “Going Out of My Head”), Klugh manages to deftly underscore their charms, time and again.