Just how much Nat King Cole inspired George Benson is evident on the opening track of Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole — a 1951 recording of an 8-year-old Benson singing Mona Lisa, accompanying himself on ukulele.
Like Cole, Benson first established himself as a highly regarded jazz instrumentalist before enjoying crossover pop stardom once he began singing.
Benson shows off his jazz vocal chops with some scat singing on a fast-paced, brassy big band version of Just One Of Those Things. There’s also a Latin-flavored arrangement of Unforgettable, with Wynton Marsalis contributing a smooth trumpet solo.
He harmonizes beautifully with Broadway leading lady Idina Menzel on When I Fall In Love and rising star Judith Hill, recently eliminated from The Voice, on Too Young.
Other highlights include a bluesy Route 66 and a retro-style Straighten Up and Fly Right, with a hard-driving guitar solo — both done in a small combo setting.
But the masterful Benson misses an opportunity to put his distinctive stamp on the Nat King Cole repertoire by letting his guitar take a backseat to his voice.
The result is that some tracks such as Nature Boy and Mona Lisa, which also use Nelson Riddle’s arrangements for Cole’s recordings, can sound derivative rather than fresh.
*Pictured above is Geogre Benson.