Leslie West, ‘Still Climbing’ – Album Review
Leslie West is arguably one of hard rock’s pioneering guitarists. Going back to the late ’60s — when his peers included Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton — he’s had an instantly identifiable style. From his trailblazing work with Mountain through his solo recordings, West and his guitar were a mighty force. He’s lost little of his six-string fire on ‘Still Climbing.’
On the opening ‘Dying Since the Day I Was Born,’ guitars attack while West’s war-torn voice sings the blues. Like several cuts on ‘Still Climbing,’ it’s an autobiographical song, and one of the album’s anchors. But it’s the blazing collaborations — like the one with Johnny Winter on ‘Busted, Disgusted or Dead’ — that drive the record. Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider shows up on a cover of ‘Feeling Good’ (which Traffic recorded on their ‘Last Exit’ album), lending his powerful pipes to one of the LP’s highlights.
Meanwhile, ‘Fade Into You,’ a cover West first heard on the TV show ‘Nashville,’ shows off both a folksy acoustic style and a full-force electric blowout; ‘Hatfield or McCoy’ is drenched in bluesy swagger; and ‘Tales of Woe’ finds West in an introspective mood. Even his cover of the well-worn classic ‘When a Man Loves a Woman,’ a duet with guitarist Jonny Lang, rings true here.
West brings it all full circle with ‘Long Red,’ which he first recorded on Mountain’s self-titled 1969 album. It’s gone through several lives over the past 45 years, including a Mott the Hoople cover and as a favorite sample among hip-hop artists. West reclaims it on ‘Still Climbing,’ retaining the same basic arrangement as the original version but injecting it with some extra mileage.
While West doesn’t break much new ground on ‘Still Climbing,’ he doesn’t need to. At age 68 and recovering from recent health setbacks, he sounds strong and in control. And his guitar playing is as commanding as ever. Here’s hoping for more sturdy climbs in the future.