South African singer-songwriter and guitarist Jonathan Butler has assimilated American pop music so completely that "Story of Life" often sounds as if it were a chapter torn from Babyface's songbook. In fact, it's easy to imagine Babyface and his occasional collaborator, Eric Clapton, infusing many of these songs with the same supple vocals and acoustic guitar lines that Butler brings to the session.
Nearly all the tunes are Butler's, though, and that's where most of the problems develop. For all his good intentions and inspirational messages, Butler seldom writes songs that are free of cliches, no matter if the subject is love, freedom or perseverance. As a result, many of the songs here, including "Can't Let Go" and "Through It All," seem trite or melodramatic, occasionally redeemed by an appealing melody, an enticing rhythm, or Butler's yearning vocals.
When Butler lets his fingers lead the way, the music is even more disappointing since the guitarist's obvious talent is squandered on a few bland excursions into smooth jazz, a la Earl Klugh and George Benson. As a result, "Story of Life" sounds like the same old story far too often.
Appearing Monday at the Birchmere.
To hear a free Sound Bite from Jonathan Butler, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8101. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)