So Strong is the latest release from the multi-talented musician, Jonathan Butler. Even though we tend to describe his music as smooth jazz, it really can’t be put into a single genre. His music covers a lot of ground. This CD is more R&B than smooth jazz. There are 14 tracks on this CD, three of which are versions of the title track, “So Strong.” There’s the original version, a steppers’ version, and an Urban AC (read: radio) version. It’s not the first time he’s put different versions of the same track on a CD, however, it’s a little redundant for my taste. The first version of “So Strong” - the one that opens the CD - has a bit of a club vibe to it, and I can see people easily dancing in the aisles to it when he plays it live in concert.
“You Got to Believe in Something” is a mid-tempo tune, which can be described almost as a testimony to some of the events that affected Butler’s life recently. The press release describes this CD as “celebrating the healing power of music,” and you can certainly hear that in the words to this song.
Butler is a singer and a guitarist. Although he’s very good at both, when listening to his albums, I tend to prefer his instrumentals to his vocal tunes. This is no exception. “Make Room for Me” is the first instrumental on this release. He’s joined by buddies Rick Braun on trumpet, and Dave Koz on saxophone. This song does a good job of illustrating the Jonathan Butler guitar styling we’ve come to love, as does the second vocal tune, “Avia/For My Baby,” a song inspired by his granddaughter.
“Factual,”“Feels So Good,” and “Color Green,” are more vocal tunes that you’ll find yourself singing along on the chorus with Kurt Lykes and the Butler family background singers (daughters Jody and Randy) . Rick Braun, again, accompanies Butler with his muted trumpet on “Feels so Good,” providing just the right accents to JB’s vocals.
“Be Here with You” is a duet with the soulful R&B songstress, Angie Stone, and features Michael Lington on sax. Although I love it when Butler collaborates with his smooth jazz buddies, it’s nice to see him working with musicians from other genres as well. It definitely gives the music a different feel.
I am a huge Jonathan Butler fan, but I found something missing from this latest release. What’s missing for me are the South African rhythms and vibes that make his music so unique and so special. He gives us a little taste in “I Pay Respect,” but not nearly enough for me. “I Pay Respect” is a tribute to some of the legendary South Africans of our time. I think Jonathan Butler is at his best when he goes back to his South African roots and uses them in his music.