A Day In The Life

Wes Montgomery

A & M, 1967

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wes_Montgomery

REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/17/2009

Even for an accomplished musician like Wes Montgomery, covering “A Day In The Life” as an instrumental and making it the title of his latest album in 1967 were risky endeavors.

The jazz guitarist, known for his frequent use of octaves, leaped into pop territory here -- and didn’t even look in one major instance. He had not listened to The Beatles’ powerful closing track on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Despite all of this, A Day In The Life was the best-selling jazz album of 1967 (the success proved to be a bummer for some fans, who abandoned Montgomery for going pop.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It’s strange not hearing any lyrics to “A Day In The Life,” but the song doesn’t suffer. This is both a testament to the strength of Lennon/McCartney’s songwriting and Montgomery’s wistful phrasing. Don Sebesky’s orchestration is the other important element, providing a fierce ending to the track.

Montgomery’s other Beatles cover, “Eleanor Rigby,” is a bit more obvious, but it is certainly more upbeat than the original recording on Revolver, thanks to the inclusion of Grady Tate’s drumming. I was particularly impressed by the middle section, in which Montgomery elevates his playing without losing the sadness of the piece.

Seven of the remaining eight tracks are also instrumental covers, perhaps the most recognizable being Percy Sledge’s immortal R&B hit “When A Man Loves A Woman.” I was quite skeptical when I saw it on the track listing, but Montgomery is smart enough to know he’s not packing as much soul as Sledge. So he takes a subtler route, his riffing a quiet emotion by the track’s conclusion. Whereas on “California Dreaming” Montgomery is the clear highlight of the song, cutting through the instrumentation of his companions -- pianist Herbie Hancock among them --and sliding into your ears.

“Angel” is the lone original instrumental on this disc. Although the song improves as time elapses, its pop structure leaves a lot to be desired when compared to the covers. If “Angel” had been left out, we would have missed out on some neat riffs, but the album itself would have been tighter.

The allure of A Day In The Life is how Montgomery might make you remember a pop song differently. Sometimes I find myself hearing his guitar playing on “When A Man Loves A Woman” instead of Sledge’s voice, which is almost absurd. But that’s the effect Wes can have on you.

Rating: B+

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