It’s the age-old question, does the use of strings somehow cheapen the music? Wes Montgomery is still to this day vilified for using strings. Wrongly, I might add. George Benson takes grief. Even Charlie Parker did an album with strings and heard the naysayers because of it. Well, here, the brilliant guitarist Russell Malone uses strings and it works beautifully. Don’t let folks tell you strings make for boring albums. Here, they add to a set of songs that are strong, and a set of players who are the best in the business. Joining Malone are Kenny Barron on piano, Christian McBride on bass, and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums.
The title cut kicks things off with a late-night feel, not unlike some of Wes’ ballad work. Very soulful soloing from Malone. His chordal work is put on display on several cuts here, including a song you normally wouldn’t associate with jazz. A remake of the Ann Murray hit “You Needed Me” is a pleasant surprise. “Handful of Stars” really gives Malone a chance to shine. Things start with a burst of harmonics, then some beautiful chordal work and soulful single-line work. And if that’s not enough, he throws some nice chordal soloing into the mix. A killer cut.
A lot of the tunes are the kind of light swing that lets the band shine. “The Bad and the Beautiful,” “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” and “Why Try to Change Me Now” all fit into that category. Things wrap up with a solo “What a Friend We Have In Jesus.” You really have to hear this version. It’s done in such a beautiful way that I don’t even want to try and describe it.
Malone is the heir apparent to players like Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, and George Benson. If you like them (and how could you not?), you’ll love Malone.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.