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Nils: Ready to Play

Guitarist Nils’ dilemma was one many instrumental artists would kill for: How to follow up Pacific Coast Highway, a breakout CD whose title song the trade publication Radio & Records determined to be the No. 1 smooth-jazz-radio song of 2005. First, he gathered first-call industry veterans: Reggie McBride, Alex Al, Roberto Vally and Dwayne “Smitty” Smith on bass, Oliver C. Brown on percussion, Donnell Spencer, Jr. and Ricky Lawson on drums and Leon Bisquera on keys. Good start. Then he wrote 10 sparkling original songs and added two familiar cover tunes. The result is another enjoyable smooth-jazz journey.

Unlike Pacific Coast Highway, where Nils wrote two pretty acoustic guitar ballads, here he plays electric guitar exclusively. While he has his own sound, many times his style recalls the bluesy vamp of Jeff Golub and Larry Carlton or the playful side of Lee Ritenour. There aren’t really any wild and funky rides, as Nils concentrates on midtempo grooves and one dreamy ballad titled “Last Night.” The title track opens the CD and repeats its main hook throughout and should do well as a first single. But after that Nils settles into a steady groove with “Just Smile,” where industry veteran Clydene Jackson’s vocals give a new sound to Nils’ repertoire. “Catnap” has a thick percussive beat as playful as the title suggests, while on “Midnight Breeze,” Nils coaxes retro organ keys to match his guitar lines.

The guitarist picks winners with his covers. Des’ree’s empowering “You Gotta Be” maintains its grandeur as an instrumental. And with the Temptations’ “My Girl,” Nils makes a fun song more joyful with a thick, shuffling beat, much as he did with James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” on Pacific Coast Highway.

Originally Published