Friday, July 09, 2004

Benson material "immature".

Young singers sometimes end up sounding unconvincing because they choose songs that are too mature for them. But on Irreplaceable, 61-year-old George Benson achieves the same result by picking material that is too immature for him.

Benson is made over here in an urban-contemporary, R and B mould, spiced with some hip-hop grooves, covering ground already harvested by R. Kelly, Usher and Brian McKnight.

The most irreplaceable person on this CD is not Benson but songwriter-producer Joshua P. Thompson, who has crafted hits for Luther Vandross and Alicia Keys, among others. He shares writing and producing credits on seven of the 10 tunes and plays guitar and other instruments on various tracks. Many of the lush, multilayered tracks rely too much on vocal harmonies and drum programming, overshadowing Benson's vocals and guitar playing.

Benson also is saddled with overly saccharine lyrics, for example, on the opening title track: "You've got my heart banging like an 808 / More than just sensational / You are irreplaceable."

The best of these tracks include the flamenco-spiced soul ballad Strings of Love, on which Benson plays acoustic guitar, and the pop song Stairway to Love, on which Benson's singing is at its jazziest and Gregoire Maret adds a stirring harmonica solo.

Benson appears to have had second thoughts about this CD, because its U.S. release was repeatedly delayed. Three tracks were dropped from the version released in Britain and replaced with three instrumental tracks in the smooth jazz vein that Benson helped create -- Take You Out, a tribute to Vandross, Arizona Sunrise and Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise. They rate among the CD's highlights, although they don't match up to Benson's best smooth jazz jams like Breezin'.

(Reviewed by Charles J. Gans, AP)

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