Charlie Byrd ‘Sixties Byrd: Charlie Byrd Plays Today’s Great Hits’ CD (ÉL/Cherry Red) 3/5

Guitarist Charlie Byrd takes the easy listening route on this relaxed set of mid-late 1960s Columbia album selections with the emphasis firmly on covering pop tunes. Byrd first came to prominence as one of the early jazz musicians to embrace the bossa nova craze in Brazil and that is not forgotten here with a faithful take on, ‘The Girl from Ipanema’, with plucked strings intro and a bossa drum beat. Further gentle bossa outings here include the evergreen, ‘Meditation’, and a relaxed strings laden interpretation of, ‘Corcovado’.

The Beatles were beginning to score big in the United States and Byrd takes on a double dose of Lennon and McCartney, with ‘Michelle’ featuring a string quartet, while, ‘Norwegian wood’, includes flamenco guitar, brass and voicings. Folksier influences emerge on guitar and delicate brass phrasings to Simon and Garfunkel’s tour de force, ‘Scarborough fair’, and to a compilation highlight of, ‘A taste of honey’, with a solo guitar intro that breaks into an orchestrated pop beat. Classical hues are tastefully deployed by Byrd on, ‘Sunday Mornin’.

Sometimes, the pop formula is too syrupy as on, ‘Galveston’, and, ‘Up, up and away’, but in fairness Charlie Byrd can and does make up for this on the Latinized drums and vibes of the melodic, ‘Who is gonna love me’, with intricate guitar work and on the haunting, ‘Lullaby for Rosemary’s Baby’. a piece taken from a then hip Roman Polanski film soundtrack and featuring piccolo and flute. Jazz fans may wince at some of the titles covered, but Byrd is a fine guitarist and one who can lend his ear to practically any tune and make something tasteful out of it. Composer Jimmy Webb was clearly catching Byrd’s ear for he further attempts, ‘Wichita Lineman’, and, ‘By the time I get to Phoenix’, the latter performed as a ballad, with a duet between guitar and flute. The non-specialist will find much to enjoy here and even guitar aficionados cannot fail but be impressed by Byrd’s subtle arrangements.

Tim Stenhouse