leslie climbingA testament to a rock icon that's seen his share of mountains and has decided to keep climbing...

Still Climbing
Leslie West
Provogue Records / Mascot Label Group
11 tracks / 41 minutes

Leslie West is back. Yes, that Leslie West – the man behind one of the most instantly-recognizable opening riffs in rock history is back sounding as strong as he did in the heyday of his seminal heavy rock band, Mountain. While "Mississippi Queen," (the opening salvo from Mountain's debut album, Climbing) is an awfully hard act to follow, the first track on West's appropriately-titled Still Climbing is the explosive "Dyin' Since the Day I Was Born," - and it's obvious that West still knows how to seriously rock with the best of them.

One of the unexpected pleasures of Still Climbing is that West puts in the best vocal performance of his career, something he attributes at least in part to giving up smoking – even the funny little cigarettes.

"Not only am I lucky to be here," says West, a survivor of bladder cancer (among other ailments), "but because I stopped smoking my voice is now stronger than it's ever been – as strong as my guitar playing." And like his guitar playing, that voice is big, heavy and expressive and – unlike the early days – better able to sustain a good rock and roll scream. Trading vocal lines with Twisted Sister's Dee Snider on Anthony Newley's (!) "Feelin' Good," you can almost feel West's sense of walking into a new day himself.

A more sensitive, even romantic side to this artist is on display on bluesy ballads like "Fade Into You," which starts out with just voice and guitar and ends in an emotional fury. In fact, it's his wife Jenni that West credits with much of his personal rehab these days, and his vocal/guitar duet with Jonny Lang on "When A Man Loves a Woman" is no-doubt dedicated to her – and a fine tribute it is, with outstanding performances by both musicians.

Ending the album is "Rev Jones Time," a solo instrumental piece that sounds suspiciously like a certain song sung by Judy Garland in a film about a land she finds on the other side of the rainbow.....

West's sense of humor and transparency are also legendary. In "Tales of Woe," West, who had the lower part of his right leg amputated to save his life, sings "Don't presume to know me when you haven't got a clue / they say I'm the lucky one – when you never walked a mile in my shoe..."

Still Climbing is a testament to a rock icon that's seen his share of mountains and has decided to keep climbing. Certainly his best solo work, the album includes guest performances by Jonny Lang, Johnny Winter, Dee Snider and Alter Bridge/Creed's Mark Tremonti.

Bert Saraco

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