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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


Thursday, January 23, 2014

RIP Fergie Frederiksen - 1951 to 2014

RIP Fergie Frederiksen
15th May 1951 to 18th January 2014
Last weekend, on Saturday 18th January, the world lost a true advocate of melodic rock / AOR music in Fergie Frederiksen.
Dennis 'Fergie' Frederiksen was one truly great singer, a wonderful talent who sadly lost his battle with cancer that he had been fighting since 2010.
My huge personal regret is that I never got to see Fergie performing live with one of my all time favourite bands Toto or another favourite band of mine, Mecca.
I never met or spoke to the guy, but have always admired the talent that he exuded.
I personally never discovered the guy's obvious talent until I first heard Toto's excellent 'Isolation' album released in 1984.
Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1951, his first success was with the Chicago born band Trillion, whose first album was released in 1978 and from the attention the band drew at the time, it landed them opening tour slots with both Styx and Heart.
He briefly worked with AOR legends Angel in 1981 before moving onto other things, as Angel fell apart soon after, although it was with Angel where he made a connection with Ricky Phillips, which turned out to be useful further into Fergie's career.
In 1982 he worked with Survivor singing background vocals on a number of tracks on their mega hit album 'Eye of the Tiger.'
In 1983 he joined La Roux and went on to appear on just one studio album with the band which was the release, 'So Fired Up' that produced the Frederiksen penned minor hit 'Carrie's Gone,' but once again it seemed Frederiksen's time with a band was short lived.
It was touching base once more with Ricky Phillips, that led to Fergie being introduced to Journey's Jonathan Cain, who along with Phillips and Cain's singing wife at the time TanĂ© Cain put together the side project Abandon Shame.
Sadly, even with all the talent involved and famed producer Kevin Olsen, it once more did not last so long, no album completed - to my knowledge - just a handful of songs, some of which did make it onto the soundtrack of 'The Terminator' movie.
It was soon after this, that the Toto connection took place, since Fergie's old friend Ricky Phillips gave late Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro (RIP) a demo of Fergie's work, after Phillips learned of Toto letting lead singer Bobby Kimball go.
Sure enough Toto and Fergie clicked and they went on to complete the excellent 'Isolation' album in 1984. One of my all time favourites, ever! Which again was why I was deeply saddened when I learned a few years back of Fergie's illness.
He was also involved in the soundtrack album Toto did for the 'Dune' movie.
After parting ways with Toto, during early sessions of the 'Fahrenheit' album recording, Fergie decided to go out on the road solo touring playing Toto sets, which sadly created some issues between the two parties and the band took action to prevent Fergie from doing this any longer, due to Fergie performing songs that he had no part in writing.
For a few years, Fergie dropped out of the music scene before Fergie and Ricky Phillips reunited to create and release the Frederiksen / Phillips self titled album in 1995.
A dream record for many AOR fans, as it featured many name artists such as Neal Schon, Deen Castronova, Tim Pierce, Steve Farris, Bruce Gowdy, Bobby Blotzer and backing vocals from the likes of Robin McAuley and David Glen Eisley to name just a handful.
A solo album in the shape of 'Equilibrium' was release by Fergie in 1999 and it also featured a serious all star lineup and was equally well received by the genre.
Various side projects where he offered his services followed before Fergie next hooked up with Jim Peterik (Survivor) once again, who was putting together a new project with vocalist Joe Vana, fellow ex-Toto player in bassist David Hungate, Mike Aquino on guitars, Jimmy Nichols (Keys) and Shannon Forrest on drums.
The project name Mecca, the album the same name, 'Mecca!'
Released in 2002, it was quite Toto like with a twist, an album I enjoyed very much too.
Fergie then got back to involvement in various side projects before the nicely put together album under the project name Frederiksen / Denander as Fergie joined up with session guitarist Tommy Denander for 'Baptism of Fire' in 2007.
Other all star project work continued before the sad announcement in 2010 that Fergie had cancer.
Fergie was not going down without a fight though and released two very good albums indeed with 2011's 'Happiness is the Road' - a brave title for a man battling cancer - and last year's 'Any Given Moment,' Fergie was doing things in style until the bitter end.
He was scheduled to hopefully, perhaps optimistically, appear at last years Melodic Rock Fest 3 but alas it was not to be, as he was not well enough.
Sadly, as the statement 'all good things must come to an end' goes, last Saturday we lost a very, very good vocalist and musical talent indeed as Dennis 'Fergie' Frederiksen finally lost his four year battle with cancer.
He will be greatly missed by so many people in the melodic rock genre.
RIP Fergie, no more pain ... Thank you for so much wonderful music. 
 Thoughts and prayers and deepest sympathies go out to Fergie's family at this time.
So sorry for your loss and such a great loss.
A great vocal to remember Fergie by, his re-recorded version of the Toto classic track, 'Angel Don't Cry.'