Friday, November 1, 2013

Leslie West - Still Climbing - West Gets Better And Better

Yeah - call it what you will, but this record review is more a loving testament to a guy who will read this and say, "You kiddin' me?" No, I'm not kidding, and let me tell you why....

Leslie West is a fellow I first ran into in maybe '72 or '73 - I suppose I'm not that different than my friend and old boss Michael Schenker - when I heard the solo on Theme From An Imaginary Western it changed my life. It set me off on the path of the single note solo that continues to this minute. I haven't spoken to Michael Schenker about Leslie's influence on us since, well, I guess last Thursday, and again we agreed that it was the Mountain man that set us on our respective paths.

Still Climbing is Leslie's latest, and he's gone far beyond just a great vibrato and playing the perfect lick to being a complete artist - he writes and he sings even maybe better than he ever just played, and I hope that's what you'll get from listening to this record.

Dyin' Since The Day I Was Born kicks things off, and it's a beautiful autobiographical number, and as I listen I'm bounced between a great riff, killer vocals, and fills that make me wish I had played them. When he hits those bends and those harmonic squalls, I'm in guitar heaven, and then as usual, the guy gives the tail solo unselfishly to a hot kid - Mark Tremonti delivers in spades, but that's the beauty - Leslie gives and he takes, and that's the true heart of rock 'n' roll.

The next track, Busted, Disgusted, Or Dead sees the big man putting on the slide and it melts like butter - no wonder Warren Haynes loves him so damned much. About now I realize the value of having Rev Jones playing bass, as the bottom end is carrying this set like the perfect foundation - it pulses, it palpitates, and it allows everything to ride across it like a king crossing the Nile. Johnny Winter joins in, and God bless everyone who made this coupling happen, as Leslie and Johnny's slide styles are very different, but they compliment one another perfectly.

A nice acoustic track eases in next, and along with Leslie's voice, this track, Fade Into You sounds like a man in love, and just the way we want a man in love to sound. The guy is singing better with every album, and you're left thinking that you hope you'd sing at least one song like this to some woman sometime in your life. When the guitar solo comes in, you are going to be amazed by yet another lift in spirit, devotion, and beauty.

Not Over You At All has a bit of a Neil Young vibe in the intro, but then Leslie kicks into a blues rock riff that reminds us that he was, indeed, one of the earliest proponents of the form on this side of the puddle. A sweet sax solo gives a bit of relapse from the onslaught of guitars, but soon enough it's back into six string bliss. Goddamn - this is one of Leslie's best - when you hear the melody of the solo married to the riff, you'll know why this man is loved by so many.

Another acoustic track brings in Tales of Woe, and I hear this as maybe a goodbye to Alvin Lee in a way - that's my presumption, but regardless, this is going to move your heart. Gorgeous - this one is ageless, and whether it's the vocal, the guitars, or the words, this one is will move you.

Leslie's joined by Dee Snider on Feeling Good, and it's another anthemic number that heralds back to the best of Clapton at his best, and both men are way above where they are normally scored by the casual rock listener. Snider made his dime with Twisted Sister, but the man is a singer, and I've a feeling he's still on the rise, and Leslie, well, Leslie is getting better by the goddamned minute.

Hatfield or McCoy - this is West doing what West does best. He's howling like the wolf, and playing like Muddy. This is blues rock children, don't go buying this or that, this is the real deal. Is he singing better, or playing better? I'll leave that for you to decide.

When A Man Loves A Woman? Jeesh, it takes a set of balls to cover this one, but Leslie approaches this fearlessly - he's even willing to sing alongside Jonny Lang, who is currently singing as well as anyone on the planet, and it results in this being a huge treat. His guitars are perfect, and when the guitars get to dancing, it is the dance of ages as they bounce back and forth before finally mating. This is musical nirvana.

Leslie knows where his bread is buttered, and he's finally broken out Long Red after it's been heard on over 5 million sales as a hip-hop sample. It was the first hip-hop rhythm and it's been now proven, and this version outruns the original from the first Mountain album by more than a few paces.

Don't Ever Let Me Go is the discs last original and it's riff rocker that reminds me what an influence Eddie had on everyone, even Leslie - still, West takes this down a path that you know is his, and it's great way to end the album proper - the man is singing better than ever, taking his place beside Gregg Allman and Paul Rodgers as the best that ever tackled the blues.

Rev Jones has been laying down the very foundation of this record since it began, and in tribute, Leslie allows him to give the ending sermon in the form of Somewhere, Over The Rainbow, and I think it fits because it pays proper homage to Leslie West, who rides alongside Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce as guys who took the form the finest.

So, there it is - I've put it as best I can about a guy who not only has been a musical influence on most everything I hear and play, but who I also consider a friend, and a mentor in many ways. My trek has not always been easy, but I always seek in many ways to one day be as tough and cool as Leslie West, the man and the musician.

Thanks to Leslie, Steve Karas, and Peter Noble.

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