The Gift

Larry Carlton

GRP Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


[Adapted from a review originally appearing in On The Town magazine on November 26, 1996]

Larry Carlton, from my admittedly skewed point of view, is a secret I have rarely shared.

This is true despite his contribution as one of the country's leading studio guitarists to literally hundreds of other artists' recordings over his lengthy career (e.g. Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Barbra Streisand). Yet I still run across relatively few people who know him, and fewer still who are as devoted as I am to his subdued yet precise jazz-pop fusion style of instrumental guitar. Fewer still, I suspect, turn to him as often as I do for energetic yet soothing background music while doing things like, well, editing a magazine, if more romantic pursuits aren't in the cards just at the moment.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Through the course of his 15-plus solo albums, Carlton has ranged from all-acoustic to all-electric, made a brief foray into the blues (Renegade Gentlemen), recorded one of the better Christmas albums I've heard (Christmas at My House), collaborated on an album of duets with fellow fusion guitar giant Lee Ritenour (Larry & Lee), and recorded a number of television and movie soundtracks, including the Hill Street Blues theme for which he and Mike Post won a Grammy. In every case his nimble fingers and devotion to melody and structure over self-indulgent noodling have kept his work engaging to the ear and enlivening to the imagination. (The nice thing about instrumentals is that you get to make up your own story to go with the music.)

On The Gift, Carlton throws everything in his bag of tricks at you all at once: acoustic, electric, Latin, jazz, blues, a vocal number and a classic pop cover. (He won his second Grammy in 1987 for his instrumental version of the Doobie Brothers' "Minute by Minute.")

Notable are "Ridin' the Treasure," a fast-paced yet atmospheric acoustic number with numerous Latin-inflected runs and solos; a cover of The Beatles' "Things We Said Today" with wife Michele Pillar on vocals; the title track, a gentle acoustic number with gorgeous Kirk Whalum sax work; "My Old Town," a jazz-funk electric number; and the bluesy closer, "Buddy."

While The Gift is a little bit all over the place in its mixing and matching of styles, and lacks that single standout track that helps to elevate many Larry Carlton albums, it remains an entertainingly mellow outing to carry you through a quiet evening at the computer... or anyplace else you might be, preferably with someone you love.

Rating: B

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