Since Klugh released his inaugural album in 1976, the Detroit-born master of the acoustic-classical guitar has become one of the most imitated icons of the instrument, issued dozens of discs, 24 of which have been on Billboard’s top-10 list of jazz albums and 6 that made it to the No. 1 slot. During that time, Klugh’s recordings also received 13 GRAMMY® nominations (the latest for HandPicked) – and his collaboration with pianist Bob James, One on One, walked away with the 1980 GRAMMY® Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album.
In 1989, Klugh released his first solo-guitar album, titled simply Solo Guitar. Sixteen years later, his second solo recording, Naked Guitar, earned Klugh his 11th GRAMMY® nomination. Both of those discs were not only popular, but they received high critical praise as well. HandPicked is on track to follow on exactly that same path. Thirteen of the CD’s 16 tracks feature Klugh’s signature style of solo guitar mastery. The remaining tracks are duets with three very different players: famed jazz guitarist Bill Frisell; ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro; and Country Music Hall of Fame guitarist and singer Vince Gill.
Klugh is no stranger to collaborative work. His recordings, One on One, Two of a Kind and Cool with Bob James, and Collaboration with George Benson featured backing bands. However, HandPicked showcases Klugh’s first recorded duets in the purest sense of the word. No band, just beautifully arranged string duets between Earl and his friends.
But whatever the format, the songs on the CD were handpicked by the youthful looking Klugh to mark his 60th birthday in 2013. All of them highlight the intimate, intricate, reflective and lyrical approach to music that is the hallmark of the guitarist’s playing. And all of them were personally selected, handpicked, by Klugh, reflecting his favorite songs and offering a tribute to his musical heroes.
The birthday party gets started with “Alfie” written by Burt Bacharach in 1966. The song is the title tune for the film of the same name that had a soundtrack composed by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Klugh notes that he has always enjoyed Bacharach’s songs because they “don’t fit the typical stereotype of what a pop tune should be.” While Rollins’ version from the film is full of swagger, Klugh’s interpretation is gentler, with a hint of melancholy.
The next tune selected by Klugh, “Lullaby of Birdland,” goes back to his time touring with the quintet led by British-born pianist George Shearing. “This song is one of George’s classic tunes,” Klugh explains, “and it means a lot to me. In Detroit, I would always go to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge and that’s where I heard Shearing. I had a chance to sit in with him there and a few weeks later I was on tour with him filling in for his guitar player who was ill.” On this version, Klugh provides his own, strumming rhythmic support for his laid-back guitar lines.
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