The highest praise Duke Ellington would offer people he admired was to say that their music was “beyond category” – and, in many ways, that phrase exactly captures the spirit of GRAMMY® Award-winning guitar virtuoso Earl Klugh and his new, largely solo CD, Hand Picked on Heads Up (part of the Concord Music Group). HandPicked debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Albums Chart and was nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Album at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. This is a disc that clearly reflects the guitarist’s view that, “Everything has its place. The fun of it is that you are not in a box. Music has no boundaries.”
Since Klugh released his inaugural album in 1976, the Detroit-born master of the acoustic-classical guitar has become one of the most imitated icons of the instrument, issued dozens of discs, 24 of which have been on Billboard’s top-10 list of jazz albums and 6 that made it to the No. 1 slot. During that time, Klugh’s recordings also received 13 GRAMMY® nominations (the latest for HandPicked) – and his collaboration with pianist Bob James, One on One, walked away with the 1980 GRAMMY® Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album.
In 1989, Klugh released his first solo-guitar album, titled simply Solo Guitar. Sixteen years later, his second solo recording, Naked Guitar, earned Klugh his 11th GRAMMY® nomination. Both of those discs were not only popular, but they received high critical praise as well. HandPicked follows the same path, with iTunes honoring HandPicked as “one of the finest recordings in [Klugh’s] catalogue.” Thirteen of the CD’s 16 tracks feature Klugh’s signature style of solo guitar mastery. The remaining tracks are duets with three very different players: famed jazz guitarist Bill Frisell; ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro; and Country Music Hall of Fame guitarist and singer Vince Gill.
Klugh is no stranger to collaborative work. His recordings, One on One, Two of a Kind and Cool with Bob James, and Collaboration with George Benson featured backing bands. However, HandPicked showcases Klugh’s first recorded duets in the purest sense of the word. No band, just beautifully arranged string duets between Earl and his friends.
As a composer and songwriter, Klugh’s credit appears on a wide range of recordings from artists such as Aretha Franklin, Jamie Foxx, Roberta Flack, Mary J. Blige, Kenny Loggins, Al Jarreau and many others. And he has been a guest artist with musicians from Buffett, Loggins, Brenda Russell and Stevie Wonder to jazz masters Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner.
Raised in the exciting cauldron of Motor City music, Klugh absorbed a wide spectrum of influences from Atkins and Wes Montgomery to Sergio Mendes, Laurindo Almeida and guitar music from Brazil, Argentina and Spain. The pop tunes of Burt Bacharach and the Beatles, as well as The Funk Brothers, Motown’s legendary studio-session band, were also part of the mix, along with the lyrical jazz piano of Bill Evans. “I love the emotions music evokes, and the stories it tells,” he says. “No matter the genre, or style, I can always find something to enjoy.” So forget the labels and just let the emotions flow while enjoying the sounds Klugh has handpicked for this landmark CD.