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George Benson & Al Jarreau: Givin’ it Up

It was perhaps inevitable that longtime friends George Benson and Al Jarreau would find themselves collaborating on a high-octane CD with guests like Patti Austin, Jill Scott, Chris Botti, Hebie Hancock, Paul McCartney and Patrice Rushen. It makes more sense when you realize both of their prior CDs didn’t do as well as expected on the charts. Benson’s Irreplaceable proved that his fans really didn’t want to hear an album of vocal tunes from a player best-known for his groundbreaking guitar work, even though he has had some high-charting vocal tunes in the past. And Jarreau’s return to his jazz roots on Accentuate the Positive had Jarreau scratching his head over its failure to gain critical or mass acceptance.

Givin’ It Up should do the trick for both. And although these two Grammy Award-wining musicians didn’t really need a gimmick, they’ve got one: Jarreau sings new lyrics to Benson’s smash hit “Breezin’,” while Benson puts his much-copied guitar licks to good use on Jarreau’s “Mornin’.” Those two new arrangements are refreshing and-even if covers of Seals and Croft’s “Summer Breeze” and Paul Young’s “Every Time You Go Away” seem miscast-this is a tremendously personal album by the talented duo, one that benefits from an organic and acoustic approach.

There’s plenty of Jarreau’s world-famous vocal tricks, which include tongue-clicking, chest-beating and plenty of crazed scatting. Benson’s guitar, for the most part, seems like an accompaniment rather than a lead instrument, and he proves he’s still got the vocal chops on the ballad “All I Am.”

This is the right album at the right time. From the new vocal renditions of Miles Davis’ “Four” and “‘Long Came Tutu” to unique interpretations of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” and John Legend’s “Ordinary People,” this album announces: Hey, look at these two legends having fun and making great music.

Originally Published