Every now and then, an artist creates a special project so rich in content, so joyous in emotion, so fresh and inspired, that it becomes almost impossible to find a title that fully embraces the range and heart of the project. Such was the challenge when the gifted singer, two-time Grammy nominated songwriter, guitarist, and producer, Jonathan Butler, delivered his latest CD to his new label, Rendezvous Entertainment.
After numerous creative meetings between artist, managers, and the label, to find just the right title to convey the essence of the music, it became evident that the challenge was so difficult because Mr. Butler is such a truly unique talent. So, the album is simply titled Jonathan, reflecting exactly what this album is: pure Jonathan Butler. And that says it all. Jonathan is the product of South Africa. Born and raised in Cape Town, Jonathan Butler spent his youth under the shroud of apartheid, an official government policy of political, legal, and economic discrimination against non-whites. His escape was music. The youngest of twelve children, he began singing publicly in South African townships at the tender age of seven. Not even in his teens, Butler's talents as a singer and guitarist were recognized and he soon found himself touring his poverty-stricken country in a traveling variety show. Though his musical abilities would soon take him away from the world he grew up in, Jonathan would neither forget the plight of his fellow South Africans nor the man who ultimately led them to freedom. "Mandela Bay," the second track on Jonathan, is a lively instrumental tribute to the legacy of Nelson Mandela. The song exudes optimism - the joy of liberation, the celebration of life. Akin to a musical sunny day, "Mandela Bay" will raise spirits and stamp a smile on faces, guaranteed to last at least four minutes and eleven seconds, though no one will be blamed for putting it on repeat.
Jonathan is the product of the Western World. At thirteen, Jonathan's talents caught the ears and eyes of British record producer Clive Caulder. He was signed to Caulder's Jive Records and as the old cliche goes, the rest is history. Jonathan's first single broke down racial barriers, becoming the first song by a black artist to be played by white radio stations in South Africa. Because Jive was headquartered in England, Jonathan decided to move there to focus on his recording career. His commitment to his craft paid off with his self-titled debut album, which received a Grammy nomination for the pop hit "Lies." Jonathan's ability to blend his roots in African music with western pop sensibilities would be a trademark of many albums to follow, though never more refined than in his latest release. For example, the first single from Jonathan is a rendition of the folk-rock classic "Fire and Rain." Butler breathes new life into this classic, infusing the vocals with intensity, as subtle as it is powerful. The musical arrangement is lively and soulful, indicative of his roots in World music. "Fire and Rain" is already garnering accolades from top radio programmers. Lori Lewis, program director for WSMJ in Baltimore states, "It literally gave me a lump in my throat. I walked into the studio and introduced it live on air. Vocals this great are really rare."
British record producer Clive Caulder signed Butler as a teenager to Jive Records. His first single was the first by a black artist played by white radio stations in South Africa and earned a Sarie Award, South Africa's equivalent to the Grammys. Jive was headquartered in England, so Butler moved there and called it home for seventeen years. His self-titled debut album introduced him internationally and scored a Grammy nomination for the pop hit "Lies." An instrumental, "Going Home," earned a Grammy nomination and the mid-tempo ballad, "Sarah, Sarah," confirmed Butler's place in popular music. A collection of diverse albums followed. Through them and extensive concert tours, Butler solidified his presence in the 1990s with a body of music that crossed color and age lines. Was he a jazz instrumentalist that sang soulfully or a passionate R&B singer that played a cool jazz guitar? "I came to the West seeking artistic freedom to express myself," he recalled. "While my albums have always offered vocal cuts and instrumentals, for me it was never about creating music for a particular format or type of audience. That's too narrow and restrictive. For me, it's about surrendering to the will of the music and just letting it flow through me, whichever direction it may go."