Soundcheck could be considered the third release in Leslie West’s trilogy of inspired recent releases. It loosely follows the successful formula West mined to great effect on 2011’s Usual Suspects and 2013’s Still Climbing (comprehensive review @ http://www.vivascene.com/leslie-west-still-climbing-album-review/).
One part of the musical equation is to embrace contributions from fabulous guest guitarists and famous friends. Suspects had Steve Lukather, Joe Bonamassa, Billy Gibbons, Slash, and Zakk Wylde, while Still Climbing featured Johnny Winter, Jonny Lang, and Mark Tremonti. For Soundcheck, West calls on the adept services of Jack Bruce, Brian May, Bonnie Bramlett, Peter Frampton, and Max Middleton to help craft another masterpiece of Blues/Rock.
Another factor of Leslie’s formula was the inclusion of inventive interpretations of classic songs alongside vibrant new Leslie West compositions. Perhaps the major ingredient in the formula is the ever-brilliant signature guitar tones and distinctive vocals of Leslie West himself.
“The guitar should sound like a voice, and having a good vibrato is essential to me.” ~ Leslie West
One classic blues/rock chestnut that stands out due to the Big Man’s stamp is “Going Down.” Fabled guitarists Freddie King and Jeff Beck had formidable past versions of the song. In West’s hands it becomes a true jam-fest. Leslie takes the first sweltering guitar segments followed by Brian May of Queen fame taking the reins on the song’s second slice. Legendary Muscle Shoals “Swamper” David Hood (father of Patterson Hood) handles bass guitar, Bobby Whitlock plays organ, and Max Middleton pilots the piano. Bonnie Bramlett’s earthy vocal harmony with West is simply exquisite.
The passing this year of Jack Bruce gives West’s amped-up rendition of the Willie Dixon blues tour de force “Spoonful” added weight. Executed as a power trio with Joe Franco ruling the drum kit; the song is a testament to the passion and powerful playing capable when West and Bruce smashed into each other on their respective instruments of destruction (anyone remember West, Bruce & Laing?).
The original songs are all first-rate too, with West’s wife Jenny again responsible for writing some fine lyrics. Co-production on Soundcheck by Leslie West and Mike “Metal” Goldberg a.k.a. “the Jews Brothers” is yet another crucial link to the fruitful trilogy blueprint. Inspiring work by a living legend of the guitar.