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Jonathan Butler: Live in South Africa

Like fellow guitarist George Benson, Jonathan Butler is blessed with a resonant voice that gives him a decided edge in sharing his personal stories to his mostly instrumental, contemporary-jazz audience. That edge is especially compelling on Live in South Africa, a CD/DVD combo that opens Butler’s amazing life story up for all to experience. Butler grew up in a South African township during the cruelest days of apartheid in the 1960s and 1970s, eventually escaping through music and finding success in England and later through his home base in Southern California. The DVD features five live songs and two documentaries: A Journey Home chronicles his return to his old neighborhood in Athlone near Cape Town, where blacks were segregated, and Robbens Island features highlights from a trip Butler made to the infamous prison that housed Nelson Mandela for 27 years.

What seals the deal on this project, though, is the 14-song CD, recorded live at the Venue, Melrose Arch, in Johannesburg. Captured in hi-def and 5.1 Surround Sound, the acoustics are amazingly lifelike. Joined throughout by his 18-year-old daughter Jodie and a crack band, Bulter begins with “Afrika” from his 1986 major-label debut, returning to the CD later in the set with “7th Avenue,” named after the street he grew up on in Athlone. Familiar tunes like “Song for Elizabeth,” “Sarah Sarah” and his version of “No Woman, No Cry” are given fresh spins. You can tell Butler is having the time of his life on the CD. The DVD proves it.

Originally Published