By Charles Hallman
Jonathan Butler’s latest collection, Grace and Mercy, was recorded at his home studio in Encino, California, and is set for release September 25 on Rendezvous Music.
The youngest of 12 children, Butler began singing and playing the guitar at age seven.
“I grew up in South Africa with a taste for music that was different,” he recalled in a recent phone interview with the MSR. “You had traditional African music. You had pop music, jazz, R&B and I grew up in that whole folk-minded kind of way.”
Butler turned professional as a teenager and became the first Black artist played on White South African stations during that country’s apartheid system. He later lived in England for 17 years. He has toured the world with the likes of Kirk Whalum and Dave Koz and has several Grammy nominations.
“I write the songs and I get so excited when it is a great song, a great melody and it feels good,” continued the singer-songwriter-guitarist, who over the course of his four-decade-plus musical career has been hard to peg down: “I never got stuck in an R&B place or stuck in a jazz place. It’s just the way I’ve always been — my influences are wide, from Stevie Wonder to [George] Benson to James Taylor to Joni Mitchell. I’m not the type of artist that likes to be pigeonholed.”
He also pointed out that his portable music device stays full of “everything…to Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.
“When I have time, I sit in front of the computer… I can find anything I don’t think I have at home,” he noted. “That what’s cool about technology today. I just found a James Brown record that has [him] singing jazz standards, and it is the most amazing record.”
Butler briefly waxed nostalgically about listening to songs from The Essential Herbie Hancock CD. “It takes me back to a time when real music and real musicians played. It wasn’t a computer — it was real people playing. It sounded so incredible and crisp,” he enthused.
Butler’s latest tour began in Detroit in mid-July. He then heads overseas in September to his native South Africa and France, before returning to the States for various domestic stops before it concludes in early December.
“I have to do live [performances],” said Butler. “I was a performer before I became a recording artist, so I am very comfortable on stage.”
But Butler is most proud of his life decision of becoming a Christian 30 years ago at age 19. As a result, gospel became a regular staple of his musical tapestry.
Butler produced and arranged Grace and Mercy, his 11th overall album. His daughter Jodie Butler also provides background vocals on all but three album cuts.
“As I sit here talking to you right now,” he explained, “somebody is going through something, and I am going through something. I just wanted Grace and Mercy [to] bless the body of Christ — grace we can get freely and mercy is free.”
Butler’s website, www.jonathanbutler.com, says that he has been through some tough times the last couple of years, including his wife battling and eventually surviving cancer and seeing both his mother and a close friend die.
As a result, his 11-song gospel CD “is really personal from where I come from, and how far I’ve come,” he proclaimed.
Grace and Mercy features “Give It Up to God,” “Who Is Like the Lord,” “I Stand on Your Word,” and “Trials” as anthem songs, while “I Know He Cares” is more traditional in nature. “Moments of Worship” is a simple praise-and-worship medley.
But “You’re All That I Need,” a bouncy number that has “crossover hit” written all over it, might be the best of the 11 songs.
Whether Butler’s performing live or hosting South African safaris, “Music, ministry, faith and family are all woven joyfully together” for him, he says on his website.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.