|Recording information: Americana Recording Studio, North Hollywood, CA; Nightbird, West Hollywood, CA; Noize Factor/Command recording, Valencia, CA; Ocean Way, Hollywood, CA; Showplace Studios, NJ.
|Leslie West isn't a particularly innovative guitarist, and his style and approach have barely moved an eyelash since he first broke into the public consciousness with Mountain back in the early '70s, but he gets a tone heavier than plutonium on his Les Paul, and when he sings, it's a gear-shredding roar that would make John Kay proud. All of this is still very much in evidence on his newest album, Unusual Suspects, which finds him squaring off with several guest guitarists, including Billy Gibbons, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Joe Bonamassa, and Steve Lukather. Naturally, there are guitar lines aplenty here, which is what one expects from a Leslie West outing, but this set also has the autumn-like feel of summation, with West looking back on years of gigs and guitar slinging in autobiographical songs like "To the Moon" and "My Gravity," both West originals (Jon Tiven was a co-writer on "My Gravity"), and a moving cover of Willie Nelson's "The Party's Over." West lost a leg to type 2 diabetes in June, and while that hasn't slowed him down one bit on Unusual Suspects, it no doubt prompted him to look back at his life and times with an unfiltered eye. When all is said and done, though, one expects West to rock, and he doesn't disappoint here, and song after song features his characteristically thick guitar tone, from the boisterous "Standing on Higher Ground" to the thunder of "Third Degree," and the presence of so many other guitar stars on this project never pushes West's playing to the sidelines. There are only a couple missteps. The version here of the Beatles' "I Feel Fine" never seems to quite settle into the crispness of the original, while the final bonus track, "I Don't Know (the Beetlejuice Song)," is simply a bad move that doesn't add anything to what went before, and actually serves to negate the tone and feel of the album. West has joked that he now needs to learn how to play guitar on one leg. Unusual Suspects suggests he's doing just fine at it. ~ Steve Leggett