George Benson – The Ultimate Collection
This new George Benson collection is a double disc which ranges from his triple-platinum “Breezin'” album in 1976 all the way to his Nat King Cole dedication “Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole” in 2013. With one exception: the 1971 CTI record “White Rabbit”, produced by Creed Taylor and garnering Benson’s first Grammy nomination.
Benson had already made a name of himself before he started with Warner Brothers in 1976 – he released a lot of critically acclaimed Jazz albums for various labels until Tommy LiPuma came on board for his first million seller. The album is featured here not only with its title track, but also with the Leon Russell standard “This Masquerade”, presented here in its single version only. The LP version is a much more majestic recording. Due to space problems I guess, several cuts are featured here as single versions only, like the Nat King Cole-inspired “Nature Boy” from his great album “In Flight” (1977), which really only comes to light in its longer version. Also included from that album is the midtempo swayer “Gonna Love You More”.
The Michael Masser-produced “The Greatest Love Of All” from the soundtrack of the movie “The Greatest” (1977) about Muhammad Ali is here as well as the Live version of “On Broadway” from his “Weekend in L.A.” set (1978), a record that I was spinning a lot during my DJ years (but the longer LP version of course). The decade ended for him with the 1979 LP “Livin’ Inside Your Love” which is represented here by the still brilliant “Love Ballad” (one of the best LiPuma productions ever), the breezily arranged “Welcome Into My World” and a lacklustre “Unchained Melody”.
The 80s continued Benson’s success story in the charts worldwide with his best album of his career: the landmark Quincy Jones-produced album “Give Me The Night”, its title track opening this collection in its 12″ long version. Also included is the fine groove ballad “What’s On Your Mind”, the Rod Temperton-written irresistible instrumental “Off Broadway”, the hymn-like “Love X Love”, and the Jazz classic “Moody’s Mood” with Patti Austin. The show goes on with a track from the 1981 Collection which had a couple of new recordings on it, like the Aretha Franklin duet “Love All The Hurt Away”, a typical rousing Sam Dees ballad produced by Arif Mardin, and the disco stompers “Turn Your Love Around” and “Never Give Up On A Good Thing” produced by Jay Graydon. A year later, he recorded an album with organist Jimmy Smith (“Off The Top”) and the soulful “Mimosa” is included here.
1983 saw another chart breaker: “In Your Eyes” had the top songwriters and producers of its era, like the easily identifiable and simply amazing Kashif (“Inside Love”) or Arif Mardin again (“Feel Like Making Love”, title track, “Love Will Come Again”, “Lady Love Me (One More Time)”, and the Omar Hakim written “Being With You”). The journey continues with tracks from the pretty unbalanced “20/20” LP from 1985 which had unbelievably bland pop fodder on it (“Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You”) but also tracks that I played to death at the time, like the Russ Titelman-produced title track or the Charles Trenet classic “Beyond The Sea”. Narada Michael Walden was responsible for Benson’s 1986 album “While The City Sleeps” and created the unforgettable “Shiver” and “Kisses In The Moonlight” and the collaboration with guitarist Earl Klugh from 1987 is omitted here (there are some cute and well-executed Marcus Miller songs on that), instead it continues with the most boring album of his career, the 1988 “Twice The Love” which is featured here with the Curtis Mayfield opus “Let’s Do It Again”.
The remaining songs are from the 1990 “Big Boss Band” with the Count Basie Orchestra, the Bluey-produced “That’s Right” from 1996, his Al Jarreau collaboration “Givin’ It Up” (2006), and the afore-mentioned Nat King Cole Tribute. I’d have thrown away a song or two and rather used the longer, always more stimulating LP versions instead and there is one major omission: Donny Hathaway‘s “The Ghetto” from his 2000 album “Absolute Benson” which yielded a brilliant Masters at Work remix that segued into the Latin groover “El Barrio” and featured Joe Sample, Lisa Fischer, Roy Ayers, Claudia Acuna, and India and put George Benson back into the clubs.