Jonathan Butler at Blues Alley

Jonathan Butler returned to Blues Alley last month, just in time for the release of his latest gospel CD, Free. It’s always a treat for me when he comes to town because I am such a fan of his music. This time was no exception.

Joining JB for his Blues Alley run were Dan Lutz on bass, Jay Williams on drums, and Arlington Jones on keys.

Jonathan opened the set with an absolutely beautiful solo acoustic guitar rendition of “Fire & Rain,” the James Taylor classic he recorded on his 2005 Jonathan CD. It was really nice to hear something so subtle and lovely. The audience sat mesmerized and followed every strum of his guitar. He could have gone with the full on high energy opening number, but chose to emulate the intimacy of the legendary venue we were in, and went in the other direction. It was perfect; well played and well received.

The band began to play, and he followed that superb introduction with “Many Faces,” an oldie but goodie. It’s been quite some time since I’ve heard that one performed live. For me, Jonathan Butler is at his best when he plays to his South African roots. It’s his sound, and his story, and it’s one of the reasons I’m so drawn to his music. I love the South African vibe. It continued when he played “Song for Elizabeth,” a song written for his mother.

He then played a song dedicated to his friend; the great Wayman Tisdale called “Let There Be Light.” Sometimes, it’s not just about hearing the music; it’s about feeling it as well. This was one of those times. As I watched him play, he was completely in his zone. We got it. We got what he was doing, and all the emotions he conveyed. And it was beautiful.

More JB classics followed, “Take Good Care of Me,”“Sarah, Sarah,” and “Do You Love Me?” During the banter between songs, Dan Lutz informed him that his cell phone was ringing, and that it was daughter Jody Butler on the line. (Jody usually accompanies her dad on tour, providing background vocals.) The audience got a chuckle when he answered the phone and told her “We’re out here working, trying to earn a living.” He shared with us that she missed being a part of this tour, and he missed her being there as well.

He continued with his stellar, uplifting version of “No Woman, No Cry,” which has become a crowd favorite. He closed the show with “Living My Dream.”

For his encore, he played “The New Day Makes You Stronger,” from the new Free release. He said this past year has not been an easy one for him, so this song was a testament to overcoming some of the hard things that crossed his path in recent times, and coming out stronger on the other side. That’s something we can all identify with, so thank you JB for taking us on this journey with you. Until next time…