CD Review – Various Artists “Thank You Les (Les Paul Tribute)”
No matter how young or old you are, if you’re a guitar fan, this is an essential acquisition. It’s a tribute, a tutorial, a testimonial and a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. The artists gathered here to honor Les Paul’s work are as diverse a group as ever assembled, including Keith Richards, Jose Feliciano, Steve Miller, Bucky Pizzarelli, Slash, and Billy Gibbons, all as you’ve never heard them before.
You’ve heard the tunes before- some grew up with them, others probably have heard them in commercials or in old movies or on vinyl.
You’ll recognize them instantly here as well. Les would have approved of the way these artists approach the material that he used as a launching pad for a display of the most inventive, innovative guitar work and technology in the instrument’s history.
Although many of the players are raucous rockers, they play the tunes as elegantly as Les would have, at least once, before he took off on improvisational journeys that would leave most pickers in the dust. But this bunch has no problems putting their own improvisational stamp on the material as well.
Keith Richard’s take on “It’s Been A Long, Long Time” is a gem, a real treasure. It’s so out of character, and so pretty, vocally and instrumentally, that it’s hard to believe that rock’s baddest boy was willing to share this softer side. His vocals are smoother than the album’s co -producer and long time Les Paul band rhythm player Lou Pallo, who takes the first vocal solo. Keef shows off a mellow vibrato that while obviously nicotine stained is still smooth from top to bottom.
Likewise, Billy Gibbons seems an unlikely candidate for “September Song.” Surprisingly, it’s a pretty straightforward version, with just enough of a string-bendin’ Texas twang here and there to remind you that there’s a cauldron of Top mojo juice bubblin’ away underneath just rarin’ to bust loose.
Of all the rockers, Slash lets it loose and hangs it out to dangle the most. He rips up Paul’s “Deep In The Blues” with what sounds like the same tube screamer he used on GNR’s “Sweet Chile O Mine” and a lot of wah-wah. Les would have loved it and probably would have enjoyed going head to head with the wooly rocker in a cutting contest featuring the piece.
But even if you’re just skipping through, picking over the high profile rock godz, you’ll find yourself pausing for the stuff in between featuring the surviving members of Paul’s trio, past and present, who still play at the Iridium on Monday nights in NYC. Not only does the music hold up, but in these guys’ hands, it still sounds fresh and interesting.