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Music DVD/CD Review: George Benson – ‘Live at Montreux 1986’

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Fans of George Benson and physical media should certainly embrace this reissue of the guitar legend’s Live at Montreux 1986. That’s because the DVD was previously available back in 2005 as a standalone release. What we have here is a three-disc package that includes not only the DVD, but the entire 15-song, 87-minute set on two CDs for the first time. In an age when more releases (and consumers) are moving to streaming formats, it’s nice to see a label, in this case Mercury Studios (distributed by Universal Music Group), embracing the old school hard copy. The tri-fold digipak certainly is no-frills, with the discs loosely slotted in open-ended sleeves that can easily slip out if you’re careful. But in this era, I guess you take what you can get if you value having actual discs in your collection.

As for the performance, it’s vintage Benson. A mixture of vocals showcases, including many of his signature hits, and instrumentals, this is Benson at his best. The band is tight, with lots of room to stretch out for solos. The keys of Barnaby Finch are particularly fine, especially when he takes flight on “Weekend in L.A.” (deservedly called out by the bandleader at the tune’s conclusion). Strangely, the band members are not credited anywhere in the liner notes. That’s pretty hard to believe, but true. Benson is in superb voice throughout, with hits like “Lady Love Me (One More Time),” “Love X Love,” “Love Ballad,” and “On Broadway” all accounted for. Surprisingly absent are “Breezin’,” “This Masquerade,” and “Give Me the Night.”

A lot of people tend to forget, or perhaps never knew, that “The Greatest Love of All” was a Benson hit long before it became a signature tune for Whitney Houston. That song is presented here in a tender rendition. This Montreux concert occurred in July 1986, a few months after Houston revived the song with her megahit single. Benson’s liquid guitar runs are particularly tasty on the mid-show, back-to-back pairing of “Affirmation” and “My Latin Brother.” The band cooks on the latter, with smooth trumpet solos courtesy of Ralf Rickert. Despite the admittedly dated video quality (hey, it was taped in the ‘80s, what can you do?) that compromises visual clarity, the joy between the band members is apparent from their smiling interactions. These guys are just having a blast vibing off one another.

The audience is, too, most notably on the late-show crowd pleasers like the “Turn Your Love Around.” Instead of a booklet, the liner notes are printed on the digipak panels. Essayist Graham Betts does a nice job summarizing Benson’s career up to that point. He emphasizes the point that Live at Montreux 1986 presents a nice combination of Benson the artist and Benson the entertainer. It’s a thoroughly satisfying show for those who prefer Benson’s instrumental prowess over his pop side, while also a containing enough danceable hits and rich vocals to please those who want just that. And the CDs offer great sound, making this an essential George Benson live album that stands up nicely against his legendary 1978 Weekend in L.A.



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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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