Leslie West - 'Soundcheck'

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Leslie West - 'Soundcheck'

There's enough greatness here to make it worthwhile.

Before I was given the task of reviewing Leslie West's powerful 'Still Climbing' album from 2013, I had been largely ignorant of the man other than knowing he was the leader of seminal US Rockers Mountain, the band responsible for the classics 'Mississippi Queen' and 'Nantucket Sleighride'.
The axeman who inspired artists as diverse as Eddie Van Halen, Ritchie Blackmore, John McLaughlin and Johnny Ramone has been recording since the mid-sixties and has just turned seventy, but despite losing the lower part of his right leg in 2011 due to complications with diabetes, he shows no sign of slowing down his relentless recording and touring schedule just yet.

I must admit that I did cringe when I saw the track listing for 'Soundcheck' as some of these songs I either don't like or they've been mercilessly overdone through the years, but some neat arrangements and inspired guest musicians have made it much better than it could have been.
His sixteenth solo album kicks off with the straight-ahead Blues Rocker 'Left By The Roadside To Die', a great song with West's whisky-soaked vocals, legendary guitar vibrato and some synthesizer bleeps and impressive dynamics keeping it fresh. Of his own songs 'Here For The Party' is a quite ordinary upbeat workout, 'A Stern Warning' is a cool acoustic piece dedicated to his friend Howard Stern and the lively 'Empty Promises/Nothin' Sacred' is a punchy Rocker tipping its hat to AC/DC.

Now to the mixed part of the programme, the covers. On the plus side there's a great version of Tracy Chapman's 'Give Me One Reason' with a superb vocal, great guitar fills and nice piano, and Curtis Mayfield's 'People Get Ready' is a really cool version that surprisingly almost matches Jeff Beck's rendition of the same song. Similarly, 'Goin' Down' gets by on the strength of West's vocal duet with Bonnie Bramlett and guest appearances by Brian May on guitar and Jeff Beck sideman Max Middleton on excellent keys. Willie Dixon's 'Spoonful' is a rough and very long 1988 live recording with Jack Bruce on bass/vocals and Good Rat Joe Franco on drums.

Slightly less successful are an acoustic 'Stand By Me', a solo bass version of 'Eleanor Rigby' (presumably by West's regular bassist Rev Jones, it doesn't say!), and while I'm a huge fan of both Peter Frampton and Wigan Athletic FC, a minor key version of our terrace anthem 'You Are My Sunshine' is a waste of both guitarists time, even though the extended solos are great.

Expertly produced by Mike "Metal" Goldberg, 'Soundcheck' is a good album that sadly isn't as consistent as '...Climbing' or the previous 'Unusual Suspects', but there's enough greatness here to make it worthwhile.

Phil Ashcroft

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