Following up 2013's urbane Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole, George Benson returns with another tribute production, 2019's ebullient Walking to New Orleans: Remembering Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. Interestingly, while Benson is best known for his funky instrumental jazz of the '70s and '80s, and smooth R&B crooning of the '80s and '90s, both of these latter-career tributes find him tackling material from even older traditions. Where Inspiration was a lushly swinging standards album, Walking to New Orleans is all blues grit and old-school R&B swagger. Though primarily influenced by jazz artists like Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian, Benson certainly owes at least a modicum of his soulful style to early rock legends Berry and Domino, both of whom helped shape the sound of modern rock and pop music. As Benson grew up in Pittsburgh, the album's title evokes a conceptual travelogue as he moves from the Midwest through Berry's home state of Missouri, all the way down South to Domino's hometown of New Orleans. To help achieve this rootsy trek, Benson worked with producer Kevin Shirley (John Hiatt, Aerosmith, Joe Bonamassa) at Nashville's Ocean Way Studios, where he also conscripted the assistance of pros like drummer/music director Greg Morrow, guitarist Rob McNelley, pianist Kevin McKendree, and bassist Alison Prestwood. The results are loose and straightforward as Benson (primarily showcased here as a singer) takes on Berry favorites like "Walking," "Nadine (Is It You?)," and "Memphis, Tennessee," as well as Domino hits like "Ain't That a Shame," "I Heart You Knocking," and "Blue Monday." These are earthy and robust productions that never stray too far afield of their rock & roll source.
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