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Jonathan Butler: Story of Life

Story of Life (N-Coded Music/Warlock NC-4203-2; 44:18) finds Jonathan Butler in a welcome troubadour mode-a frame perfectly suited to his gently lyrical guitar work and warm, vibrant tenor vocal. The album is a window to the composer’s roots, swirling with African and Brazilian rhythms, and poetic, deeply personal lyrics. Carefully crafted pieces like “I Can’t Let Go,” with its bare-brushed shuffle drums and deep-wrought cello threads echo the bittersweet reflections in Butler’s lyrics (As I walk my old stomping ground/A flood of memories are unbound/Feel a guilt inside/Did I do things right?). Likewise, the lilting acoustic strum and lyrics about personal transformation on the album’s title track evoke a gentle, Tracy Chapman-like uplifting spirit. Equally affecting are instrumental pieces like the bright, seamless “Let’s Stand Together,” and doodling, spacious “Suite 830,” which finds Butler alternately trading licks and doubling melody lines with saxophonist Candy Dulfer. Butler breaks the meditative mode only occasionally to drift into more modern synthesizer-slick fare like “So in Love,” but his best stories here emerge from a gentler, simpler place.

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