Provogue [Release date 27.11.15]
‘Soundcheck’ is probably more of a significant album title than you might originally realize, if only because the arrangements on this album sounds like something Leslie West might tinker with in that dead time just before the doors open.
‘Soundcheck’ is really all about his expansive guitar playing. He’s joined by several guests including Brian May on ‘Going Down’, an overly familiar cover that robs the song of its true impact.
The much heralded liaison with Jack Bruce on a live cut of ‘Spoonful’ is short on inspiration and audio quality, but is rescued by Leslie’s shrill solo that gives the jam some welcome edge and intensity.
On the brighter side, West effortlessly reclaims his title as the ‘king of tone’ with a cluster of big sounding solos, tempered by sumptuous slide. His guitar playing marks a welcome return to form after diabetes left him with one leg.
He sounds totally committed on the funky electronic intro and growled vocals of ‘Left By The Roadside To Die’, as he moves from acoustic and electric to slide on a rocky opener that curiously doesn’t really represent the album as a whole.
For all its introductory swagger, ‘Soundcheck’ doesn’t quite get out of the blocks because of a palpable lack of direction and decent material. Together with co-producer Mike Goldberg, Leslie seems to have focused on the micro rather than the macro. They nail the big toned solos but lose sight of the bigger picture and as a result the album is an aggregation of good ideas lacking an overall concept.
When Leslie pours all his energy and angst into his big solos the walls start to shake. The suitably titled ‘Here For The Party’ provides the touch paper to ignite a powerful combination of his caustic growl and big riffs, but just when you expect him to crank things up he surprisingly opts for a more reflective feel on ‘You Are My Sunshine’ with guest Peter Frampton. West’s beautifully nuanced slide is the closest he gets to indelible stamping his mark on a series of covers.
There’s also an original arrangement of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Give Me One Reason’. And while he strikes a happy medium between expressive phrasing and hefty guitar parts, it’s his inherent interpretive ability that glues the whole album together.
‘Empty Promises/Nothing Sacred’ can’t fail as a power chord homage to AC/DC, as Leslie’s red raw vocal attacks the song with the kind of vigour that made him such a power-house with Mountain.
In sharp contrast, ‘A Stern Warning’ is an acoustic noodle that suggests something with real substance, but only sparkles after a belated tempo change. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ takes this review full circle, as the Rev Jones, bass-led instrumental sounds like something formulated at a soundcheck.
The biggest surprise is Leslie’s duet with Arielle Pizza on ‘Stand By Me’, which brings unexpected sequential diversity but lacks the presence and real emotion of the original.
‘Sounchdeck’ is frustratingly good in parts, but it’s worth checking out if only to hear Leslie hitting those magisterial tones and snarling his lyrics with real venom. It’s great to have him back. ***½
Review by Pete Feenstra
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