Al Di Meola: All Your Life

One could be forgiven for groaning, “Aww, not another jazz artist doing Beatles covers,” before listening to Al Di Meola’s All Your Life. But after hearing just the first few tracks, that sort of naysaying should perish. Di Meola’s approach on these 14 Lennon-McCartney covers is homey and unfussy, just an acoustic guitar or two laying out the melodies, some light embellishment and braiding, and a sprinkling of minimal percussion (often just handclaps). Di Meola toys adroitly with the arrangements, but never does a song become unrecognizable: Even when he takes on a tune not intended for guitar, one as complex as “I Am the Walrus,” his mastery is such that he covers all the bases on his own, evoking for the listener the missing drums and strings. His “A Day in the Life,” similar in mood and pace to Jeff Beck’s, is elegant and bold, almost new-agey in its deliberate avoidance of the tension and release found in the original.

Not surprisingly, the songs that work the best are those written for acoustic originally, ballads such as “I Will,” “And I Love Her” and “Blackbird.” There Di Meola takes the most liberties, not so much losing intent as suggesting other paths; his take on the latter of those, as well as “If I Fell,” resembles a John Fahey meditation.

While Di Meola does resort to some of the group’s most overexposed compositions-John Lennon’s “In My Life,” Paul McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby”-he’s careful to bypass clichés, and he counters with enough daring picks. (Curious, though, is the absence of George Harrison material.) His “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” houses some of the album’s most thrilling double-tracked soloing. To keep the repertoire at least somewhat refreshing, “Because” is celestial.

Recorded at London’s Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles worked, All Your Life feels like the joyous labor of love its creator undoubtedly envisioned.