Review: Soundcheck - Leslie West

by Andy Snipper,

Leslie West these days is an icon of the Blues but his history as an out and out rocker stays with him as well. He has suffered ill health lately but come through (albeit without one leg due to diabetic complications) and released his album Still Climbing in 2013.

This is a monster of an album, fully in tune with his history but there is a feeling that runs all through the album that he is going to play what he wants and with some notable assists (Peter Frampton, Brian May, Max Middleton, Bonnie Bramlett and a live performance with the late Jack Bruce – a longtime friend and collaborator – he achieves it.

What is surprising about this album is how varied the music is. He kicks off with Left By The Roadside to Die which has a huge power and anger in what is a straight Blues. The playing is superb with West’s trademark guitar ‘tone’ shrieking like a banshee and some delightful resonator underneath. It leads into a cover of Tracy Chapman’s Give Me One Reason and I would guess that Ms Chapman never expected it to sound like this – the guitar and that voice – somewhere between a bellow and a growl – taking the plaintive note away from the song and making it affirming and positive. After that you get a ZZ-Top inspired rocker Here For The Party which is a real belter.

It is actually the covers that grab the ear more; from You Are My Sunshine played in a minor key with strings and utterly desolate (apparently West heard the track played in a lower key on Sons of Anarchy and heard something that he could work with) and with a guitar break that echoes of a man walking away down the long road – you would have to have a hard heart not to be affected by it.

Then there is his version of Going Down featuring Brian May, Bonnie Bramlett and Max Middleton as well as the legendary Bobby Whitlock on keys – the song is awesome, all power and braggadocio as well as some innate funk that really sets it off.

West recorded Stand By Me as a tribute to Ben E King who lived near him in Teaneck NJ and features Bonnie Bramlett duetting with West.

Finally you get a live version of Willy Dixon’s Spoonful done in the style of Cream and featuring Jack Bruce. It was recorded on a small portable deck but it still works and again it is West celebrating one of his lost friends.

It isn’t a perfect album – I really can’t get my head around his version of Eleanor Rigby – but it cooks like a 3 star restaurant.

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