"OUT OF THE Shadows," the new album by Paul Jackson Jr., should make fellow guitarist George Benson both proud and nervous. Proud because Benson's influence on Jackson's approach to the guitar and pop jazz is unmistakable. Nervous because the competition is getting awfully stiff out there.

Like Benson (and Wes Montgomery before him), Jackson is a melodist at heart. He frequently supports his bright, catchy themes with a mixture of single note and octave solos. Though he clearly set out to update Benson's sound for the '90s by, among other things, introducing a hip-hop groove on "My Thang" -- a cut co-produced by Public Enemy's Hank Shocklee -- it's Jackson's melodic flair that nearly always stands out.

Sometimes the melodies are fashionably sweetened by vocals. Soul titan Luther Vandross even surfaces briefly as part of a background chorus on the pleasant if innocuous pop ballad "Make It Last Forever," and singer Tim Owen strives for a similarly romantic mood on "This Love's on Me." Other times, Jackson's melodies are tightly woven into the funk grooves that propel "The New Jazz Swing," "Encino Shuffle" and other heavily overdubbed cuts aimed directly at the dance charts.