Soundcheck is an album that describes the many faces of a musician that loves music in its entirety, approaching each song from West's unique point of view. This album is, essentially, an elegant collection of covers that West had always wanted to put on record and felt that it was right to do so right now.
Some of the album's covers have been given an amazing transformation. You Are My Sunshine is played in an astonishing minor-key version, allowing West and Peter Frampton, special guest on this track, to showcase both guitarists' great technique and West's amazing vocals. The best vocals that West delivers on the album belong though, to Empty Promises/Nothing Sacred, a song that West defines as "His tribute to AC/DC". The New York Guitar virtuoso clearly demonstrates on this track that rock knows no age, either from a guitar playing prospective or by delivering incredible levels of vocals.
There are many more highlights on the album. The opening Left By The Roadside To Die is, perhaps, the stand-out track on Soundcheck. West combines beautifully acoustic and electric guitar on a music carpet of synth, created by his keyboard player David Biglin. The solo guitar part played on a slide is a little masterpiece and encaptures perfectly the skills and artistry of Leslie West.
The two instrumentals on Soundcheck are also very special. Eleanor Rigby, The Beatles classic, gives the opportunity to West's bassist, Rev Jones, to pen an incredible solo of rare beauty. A Stern Warning instead, sees West zigzaging elegantly from acoustic blues to country and classical, with amazing changes of music tempo thrughout the whole track.
West is never shy in inviting big names onto any of his albums and Soundcheck is no exception. For the cover of Freddie King's classic Goin' Down, West dusts off from his archive a version that he had recorded more than a decade ago with Queen's guitarist Brian May and legendary session players of the calibre of David Hood and Bobby Whitlock. Once West had the original tapes, he just had to track vocals on and the outcome sounds really incandescently powerful.
One final note for the closing track of the album. Willie Dixon's Spoonful was recorded live in 1988 and along with West, there was Joe Franco on drums and the late great Jack Bruce on bass and vocals. The live performance of this tune is wild, powerful, with that 70's circa raw type of sound and reminds all of us once again, not just West's incredible artistry on guitar but also Bruce's amazing talent.
Soundcheck is not, perhaps, West's finest hour but contains so many great moments that tiny moments of indulgence can be easily forgiven. A celebration of skills and musical extravaganza, elegantly packed, as always by Leslie West.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Soundcheck is out now via Provogue/Mascot Label Group