Guitarist George Benson and vocalist Al Jarreau start out strong on Givin' It Up, but the album soon morphs into a halfhearted guest fest with smooth jazz as its too-mild center. Neo-soul vocalist Jill Scott, Chris Botti, Patti Austin and Paul McCartney all appear. There are worthwhile moments, such as Patti Austin's gorgeous voice melting in with Benson's and Jarreau's on "Let It Rain," and Benson's singing on "All I Am" will make your heart well up. Jarreau even scats the melody to "Don't Start No Schtuff" with Olympic sprinter speed. But to get to such musical camaraderie here, you've got to weed through drab collaborations and obligatory instrumental numbers, such as Benson's workmanlike rendition of the John Legend hit "Ordinary People." Jill Scott's turn on Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" is particularly unimaginative; she attempts to emulate Holiday's relaxed phrasing instead of being herself. McCartney's duet with Jarreau on Sam Cooke's masterpiece "Bring It on Home to Me" is an exciting pairing in theory. But their voices are mismatched; it might've worked had Jarreau simply sat it out. Givin' It Up could've been great two vet performers having a ball like only close buddies can but Benson and Jarreau rely too heavily on, or settle for, too many guest appearances. The result is a formulaic stab at crossover-friendly easy listening.
Charles L. Latimer writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].