Title - 'Soundcheck'
Artist - Leslie West
As I'm sure you are all well aware by now, Leslie West is an American rock guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, best known as a founding member of the hard rock and heavy metal band Mountain. Affectionately nicknamed "The King of Tone" by his legions of fans, referring to his influential and world-renowned guitar tone, West was also nicknamed "The Fattest Fingers in Rock N' Roll", due to his large build.
Back on June 20th, 2011, West had his lower right leg amputated as a result of complications from diabetes. Ergo, here on his brand new album, the soon-to-be-released Soundcheck via Provogue Records, this coming November, 2015, you can't help but think (just by looking at some of the song titles alone) that the album reflects a lot of pent up anger about the recent trials and tribulations that West has been forced to endure.
Soundcheck is West's 16th solo album, and follows 2011's critically acclaimed Unusual Suspects, and then 2013's brilliant Still Climbing. Here on his new release, the legendary rock guitarist lays down some of his best work to date, in my humble opinion, with contributions from the renowned British guitarists Peter Frampton and Brian May, ex-Jeff Beck keyboard virtuoso Max Middleton, vocalist extraordinaire Bonnie Bramlett and the late great Cream bassist and longtime friend of Leslie’s, Jack Bruce.
The album kicks off in stunning, powerhaus synth styling with the throaty 'Left By The Roadside To Die,' which moves into 'Give Me One More Reason,' a cover of the Tracy Chapman mega hit, seamlessly. West displays his hard rockin' side like never before on 'Here For The Party,' sung back in the day by Gretchen Wilson (and actually written by Big & Rich). The gentle Ray Charles cover of 'You Are My Sunshine' (featuring Peter Frampton) is next, and is backed by the guitar attack of 'Empty Promises / Nothin' Sacred,' before the solo acoustic virtuoso piece, 'Stern Warning' (referenced, as such, for Howard Stern himself!) is brought forth.
Curtis Mayfield's 'People Get Ready' is an unexpected gem to find amongst this heavy rock collection, and for my money, one of the true stand out cuts on Soundcheck. 'Going Down' features guest appearances from Queen's Brian May, along with contributions from Bonnie Bramlett and Max Middleton, plus legendary session players David Hood on bass and Bobby Whitlock on organ, and is backed by the gentle, beautiful guitar work and duel vocals (with the aforementioned Bramlett) on Ben E. King's infamous 'Stand By Me.'
Johnny Ramone, a fan of West, has called him, "one of the top five guitar players of his era". and here on Soundcheck you will find it hard to disagree with that bold statement. Another surprise here is in the form of The Beatles' 'Eleanor Rigby,' this time done as a bass-heavy rendition. A short cut sadly, it still manages to feed into your brain, making you feel like you've never quite heard the song done in this manner before. The album is then rounded out with what sounds like an actual soundcheck/live cut of 'Spoonful,' an at-times thunderous blues stomp through the ages, if ever there was.
Reviewed by: Russell A. Trunk