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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Leslie West – 'Still Climbing' album review

Leslie West – 'Still Climbing' album review

Released on: Provogue / Mascot Records. Release date: Available now
So here’s the thing, when I first heard Mountain, many moons ago – ‘70’s - the song / tune was ‘Nantucket Sleigh ride’ and that was the one and only track I ever recall liking from Mountain, even though I once owned the ‘Twin Peaks’ album.

They just never clicked with me, I really wish I could say different as they have a significant history / back catalogue and of course this was where one Leslie West came from.
Understand this though, I always knew and respected Leslie West’s abilities, great player but Mountain to me, just weren’t my bag.
Then coming on a number of years, I recall my favourite guitar player Michael Schenker announced he was recording with Leslie West and methinks …, hmmm, what will this be like then …
Well I heard the material and for me, it was alright but it was lacking something that really, really grabbed me and after playing this here album, might I say to death, I might just have to go back and revisit that material!

‘Still Climbing’ is one of those albums you get to hear and then kick yourself for not previously ‘paying attention before,’ what was I thinking?!

I also MUST get myself a copy of Leslie’s last album ‘Unusual Suspects,’ as if it’s a patch on this – Which it most certainly must be just based on Leslie’s special guests on that one alone. – it’s surely a winner!
I mean that last album featured many of my personal favourite guitar players including Steve Lukather and Joe Bonamassa to name just two, it also featured major names like Slash, Billy Gibbons and Zakk Wylde, so right there is good reason to go and check it out.

‘Still Climbing’ features special guests once again with the likes of Jonny Lang, Johnny Winter, as well as perhaps two stranger choices in Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider and Creed / Alter Bridge man Mark Tremonti, impressive huh?!

Something else to keep in mind too, is that Leslie West loves to woo audiences with his brand of rocking as well as sometime very soulful blues, so when the poor guy through his battle with diabetes lost his right leg (2011), you’d think it would really make him think twice about continuing on with this demanding career. Not a chance!
The guy has come back, guns a blazing if you will with two storming albums – As I said, I’ve read the reviews elsewhere on ‘Unusual Suspects,’ which got much praise and this one can rock you hard as well as move you soulfully. I’m telling you straight, it’s a great album.

Opening with the hard rocking groove of ‘Dyin’ Since The Day I was Born’ which just had me sold from the very first time it open up! Such a great hook and he’s ably supported here by his backing band. Hard hitting drums, pumping bass, a smidgen of keys somewhere in the mix and of course the man himself on lead vocals.

Get this though, I have to say from the press release I don’t know who plays bass here or drums and my promo copy of the album did not give it either. Huge kudos to his band throughout though.

This album is also capturing his life story to a degree as well, look at the opener’s song title and it’s lyrics also tell quite the tale, so when I see that the next song is titled ‘Busted, Disgusted or Dead,’ there you have it right?!
I mean this guy has really been through quite the grinder even beating off bladder cancer at one point.
So on ‘Busted, Disgusted or Dead’ Leslie trades slide guitar licks with yet another legendary player in Johnny Winter.
Have to tell you, this has such an awesome classic deep, yet dirty blues groove that it made me wonder if it wasn’t Joe Bonamassa on here. It’s just great, Leslie and Johnny lay it right on the line!

‘Fade into You’ opens with a soulful vocal line and some nice acoustic playing and then it kicks in and this just gives me goose bumps when the solo kicks in too. Not unlike Schenker’s style too. Love it!
It’s funny you know as at times I’m even reminded by his vocal of Graham Bonnet, quite harsh, yet appropriate.

Creeping up on you is the approach of ‘Not Over You At All,’ and then it gathers a kind of sexy vibe if you will with some sax, I mean that’s really how it hits me.
Love where the guitar follows the vocal line too, another little treat and the underlying Hammond organ is sweet. Good stuff indeed! 

‘Tales of Woe’ is beautifully presented and is another soulful touch, led in with acoustic guidance and some beautifully – Again very reminiscent of Schenker – lead work. Nice!

Next up is a cover of Anthony Newley’s ‘Feeling Good,’ again perhaps is a reference to his life experiences of late, especially the line, ‘It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me,’ where it reflects on his life changes to try and perhaps improve his life in these latter years and why not, perhaps a little late Leslie but heck, with what you’ve battled man and how you’ve come out the other side with class playing like this, you go man!
This track also features Dee Snider trading vocal lines with West and if I didn’t read it, I wouldn’t know it, Nicely done!

So I guess ‘Hatfield or McCoy’ meant nothing to me story wise but I guess there’s a story out there – I did actually notice a DVD with this title recently, but still know nothing more as I didn’t have time to stop and read the cover notes. – and this one follows a down and dirty groove and once more some slick guitar solo work.

Then perhaps a surprise when Leslie pulls out the Percy Sledge classic, ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ and is joined by the soulful Jonny Lang to share vocals duties. Some wicked and soulful guitar touches here and once more the dueling comes into play a little. Great interpretation indeed!

An old Mountain number in ‘Long Red’ gets the redo treatment next and for this Leslie brought in his brother Larry West on bass and it brings it right up to date and I can say nothing wrong about this at all! Nice tune.

Leslie maybe you could start redoing the whole Mountain back catalogue as I like how you do this very much!

OK, I know I’ve referenced Michael Schenker at least twice already but next track ‘Don’t Ever Let Me Go’ really reminds me in its style of something that was on the MSG comeback album ‘In The Midst Of Beauty.’Really love the plucking like, almost with a kind of Middle Eastern, exotic like little picking style solo licks, quite similar to Schenker and there’s nothing wrong with that!
It’s a great rocking number indeed.

Then to close the album a little bass interpretation of ‘(Somewhere) Over The Rainbow’ entitled ‘Rev Jones Time’ so I’m guessing it’s ex-Schenker bassist Rev Jones on bass here. - Doesn't say in the notes ...
Fun little closing number.

This really is as I said before a really great and enjoyable album that I could play again and again every day and never get tired of it at all.
Nice one Leslie, so what’s next?

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


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