Though derided by some for being a proponent of “easy listening” and “smooth jazz,” Earl Klugh is nonetheless a superb nylon-string guitarist, much of whose music is easy to listen to and smooth, but usually in a good way! Now, I’ll be the first to admit I have not followed the intricate contours of much of his career since he first came on the scene in the early ’70s playing with George Benson, and several years later, recording with Bob James. But consider this: 23 of his 30 albums have made the Top Ten on the Billboard Jazz chart, five hit Number One, and he’s amassed a dozen Grammy nominations. That’s because this cat can play.
As fate would have it, Klugh’s third album, Finger Paintings, came out around the time I was just getting started in the music journalism game (1977), and though the sappy production on the LP was definitely not to my taste, one track from that record has stuck with me through the years, his lovely tune “This Time.” When I saw a reference to Klugh somewhere the other day, that song is what I immediately thought of, so I went digging for a performance of it, and this is one I found, from 2010—solo acoustic, no bland accompanists in sight! If you stick around after that song, he plays a snaky, sinewy jazz version of the mid-’60s ballad “The Shadow of Your Smile” after it. Respect to Earl Klugh! —Blair Jackson