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Johnny Smith, Mark Holzinger, Chris Justin : San Francisco Bay Jazz

How ironic that San Francisco-based Johnny Smith shares his name with one of the all-time great jazz guitarists, for this latest release from the Bay Area singer is actually a terrific guitar album masquerading as a decent vocal disc. Not that there’s anything wrong with Smith’s voice. Akin to the ground-glass sound that contemporaries Curtis Stigers and Steve Tyrell manipulate so well, Smith’s gravelly rumble is eerily similar to the faux-boozy bleating of Phil Harris. But Smith’s singing, solid as it is on a dozen selections drawn largely from the Great American Songbook (with one original, the tender “Song for My Father,” added for good measure), it can’t hold a candle to the exquisite way both he and recording mate Mark Holzinger handle a guitar. Stylistically, neither Holzinger nor Smith much echo the other Smith’s gentle, ofttimes almost ethereal touch. Both seem more closely aligned with the Les Paul school or, to draw an up-to-date comparison, to the strapping robustness of the Susie Arioli Swing Band’s brilliant Jordan Officer. Nor (despite the album’s distinctly West Coast title) do Smith and Holzinger seem in sync with the laid-back cool so often associated with California musicians, instead suggesting the assured, countrified appeal of the finest Tennessee players.

Originally Published