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January/February 2008

Biréli Lagrène Gipsy Project
Just the Way You Are
Dreyfus Records

By the time guitarist Biréli Lagrène briefly turns crooner here and asks, “Why not take all of me?” it’s a safe bet some Djangophiles will be willing to decline the invitation. Lagrène is out to reach a wide audience on Just the Way You Are, and if the Billy Joel-penned title cut isn’t sufficient warning for those in hot pursuit of Hot Club-evoking sounds, or even a modern facsimile, then the inclusion of “Love Me Tender” should do the trick. (Of course, Elvis himself might have enjoyed Lagrène’s jaunty take on the tune, with its finger-popping pulse, tremolo riffs and skittish solo.) Post-swing-era jazz guitar influences frequently surface on this small-combo session. George Benson is represented by his composition “Before You Go,” which inspires a string of choruses showcasing Lagrène’s remarkably fluid touch, and Wes Montgomery’s memory is evoked by the album’s coda “Tim and Zoe,” with its lush arrangement and octave-laced runs. Still, there’s nothing quite as appealing as hearing Lagrène on acoustic guitar, reprising “I’ll See You in My Dreams” with Django-like panache (and tipping his hat to Chet Atkins in the bargain), or reinvigorating Reinhardt’s “Feerie” with a big assist from reedman Franck Wolf and drummer Andre Ceccarelli. A capable balladeer, Lagrène’s rendering of “All of Me” offers a romantic, John Pizzarelli-like interlude, but it’s no surprise that the album’s highlights revolve around his six-string virtuosity—acoustic and electric, Django-inspired and not.

Originally published in January/February 2008
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