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Phil Upchurch: Tell the Truth!

Phil Upchurch is the kind of guitarist who makes a strong point by what he chooses not to play. There are speedier chopsmeisters, players who undertake more daring intervallic leaps, those who navigate trickier lines, but it would be hard to imagine a more soulful guitarist than Upchurch. From his laidback phrasing on Nat Adderley’s bluesy boogaloo “Jive Samba” to his buttery-smooth vocal inflections on Steely Dan’s “Jack of Speed” and on the bluesy title track, Upchurch’s understated approach on Tell the Truth! is more about pure feeling than technique. And yet he’s holding in that department too, as he so capably demonstrates on Roland Vasquez’s “Long Gone Bird” and on his own stunning arrangement of Paul Desmonds’ “Take Five,” done up in a similar fashion to his arrangement for that tune on George Benson’s crossover smash hit from 1976, Breezin’.

Natalie Cole’s “La Costa” is a lovely change of pace, allowing Upchurch to flaunt his affinity for flamenco music (and the late Lenny Breau) on nylon string acoustic guitar. On Eric Johnson’s “Manhattan,” he shows a command of Wes Montgomery-style thumbed octaves. He creates an infectious groove with wah-wah rhythm guitar bubbling underneath his soulful reading of the gospel-flavored ’70s R&B anthem “(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again,” while his earthy soloing on a gorgeous reading of “Girl Talk,” the Neal Hefti/Bobby Troup vehicle for Count Basie, is a blue-tinged thing of beauty. But for straightforward, real-deal blues, nothing here surpasses Upchurch’s loping, down-home “She’s Alright.”

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