Laurence Juber – ‘LJ Can’t Stop Playing the Beatles’ (2017)
As an interpreter of Beatles music, guitarist Laurence Juber possesses unique credentials. He not only played on Ringo Starr’s Stop and Smell the Roses, he was once a member of Wings. The 1979 LP Back to the Egg features Juber’s deft guitar work, earning a Grammy award as part of the track “Rockestra.” When Paul McCartney disbanded Wings in 1981, Juber returned to his already successful career as a top session guitarist and began releasing solo albums. Beginning with his 1982 debut Standard Time, Juber proved himself a skilled guitarist with equal facility in rock and jazz. He is particularly adept at intricate acoustic guitar fretwork.In 2000, Laurence Juber released LJ Plays the Beatles, an album that quickly became a favorite among the group’s fans. Five years later he followed up with One Wing, a tribute to Paul McCartney that also garnered acclaim. His current release, LJ Can’t Stop Playing the Beatles, follows the winning formula of his previous discs: reinterpreting the Beatles’ music with just an acoustic guitar. In doing so, he strips down otherwise multilayered tracks such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” to their barest elements, exploring their critical elements and captivating listeners. Other tracks, not surprisingly, work well under the “unplugged” treatment, although Juber’s skilled picking style still brings added dimension. “Something” particularly benefits from his reinterpretation, the melody brought out in this spare arrangement.One of Juber’s most outstanding performances is his cover of “Hey Bulldog.” How could such a loud rocker work with just one acoustic guitar? Astoundingly well, as Laurence Juber proves. He slaps the strings while playing, adding a rougher edge while still replicating the vocal parts instrumentally. It is amazing to consider that only one musician is playing on this track. The bluesy “Don’t Let Me Down” sounds more thoughtful here, the wailing desperation of the original instead translated as a gentle meditation on love. Delicate picking and tapping of strings enhances the song’s underlying romanticism.
Other highlights include Juber’s charming rendition of “Honey Pie” (a song that has traditionally worked well as a folk and jazz track, covered by artists such as Tuck and Patti) and a bare rearrangement of “If I Needed Someone.” Juber’s acoustic reworking brings out the melancholic aspects of the track, but at the same time lends an explosive energy to the chorus, even ending with a Spanish flamenco-esque flair. While lacking the rousing singalong quality of the original, Juber’s remake of “Hey Jude” brings out the tenderness often overlooked in the Beatles’ studio recording. “I’ll Follow the Sun” also exemplifies this reimagining of originals, as Juber’s playing reveals the McCartney composition’s youthful, optimistic qualities.
Uniquely qualified to perform the Beatles’ catalog, Laurence Juber effectively recasts familiar tunes into songs containing gentle emotion. Beatles tribute albums abound, but few reveal the essential structures of the original tracks, encouraging listeners to experience them in a fresh way. LJ Can’t Stop Playing the Beatles accomplishes this feat quietly but effectively.