Wishful Thinking was recorded in 1983 and 1984, just before Earl Klugh left Capitol Records for the greener pastures of Warner Bros. in 1985. What makes the album compelling -- despite its brief running time, clocking in a bit over 36 minutes -- is that it is a summation, really, of all the places Klugh had been as a player and composer. A self-produced effort, it showcases his wonderfully rhythmic, deeply melodic gift on an acoustic nylon-stringed guitar. From his earliest days with Blue Note almost a decade earlier, Klugh brought something truly different to the table. His sound was rooted in blues, but elegantly and sparely articulated. He brought a soul-jazz approach to everything he touched, but wasn't afraid to allow classical music into his approach; he also looked toward the music of film score composers like Michel Legrand and John Williams in bringing out a certain textured shade of emotion that is on display here like a rainbow after a storm. There are small-ensemble pieces, such as the title track with Eric Gale playing gorgeous fills to Klugh's enchanting melody. Then there's the calypso-flavored "Tropical Legs," with bassist Lucio Hopper and percussionist Sammy Figueroa bringing in a solid yet breezy backbeat over which Klugh, electric guitarist Carlos Rios, and keyboardist Barry Eastmond interact fluidly. "The Only One for Me" adds the telltale emotive sound of David Sanborn's alto saxophone to the mix and allows Eastmond's keyboards to create an atmospheric backdrop for Klugh's limpid funk melodic leads to wind around the rhythm section.
But in many ways this is only the beginning, as Klugh engages his wider aspirations with orchestral arrangements complementing his guitar playing, making for surprisingly lush works such as "All the Time," which begins with a killer little reggae rhythm from Ronnie Foster's B-3 and Charles Meeks' bass laying down against Paulinho Da Costa's percussion work and a solid backbeat by James Bradley, Jr. on drums. Phil Upchurch and Donald Griffin lend alternately rhythmic electric six-string fills and soaring leads to the middle. But get this: the whole thing is texturally orchestrated with strings -- including a harp -- arranged and conducted by Johnny Mandel! David Matthews uses a larger group to accompany, texture, and create dreamy soundscapes for "A Natural Thing," where Klugh is the only other musician. Don Sebesky's orchestra backs a band that includes bassist Ron Carter, guitarist Joe Beck, Figueroa, and drummer Brian Brake for the most lilting and heartbreaking lyric composition on the record. Finally, Matthews returns, backing Klugh in a deceptive little workout called "Right from the Start." What begins as an intimate, wispy little Spanish melody by Klugh's guitars with some backdropped strings explodes into a smoking Latin jazz big-band workout. Wishful Thinking is a dizzying array of colors, textures, warmth, and heat that proves Klugh not only knows exactly what he wants, but how to bring the right people in to get it for him. This isn't merely the work of a guitarist, but a visionary who cares about pop, classical, jazz, blues, and funk equally and brings them to bear seemingly effortlessly. The weird thing? This is actually typical of his Capitol period. ~ Thom Jurek