REVIEW: Leslie West – Legacy: A Tribute to Leslie West

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I guess I never really expected to witness the day when the TWISTED SISTER frontman, Dee Snider, and the ex-DREAM THEATER drum colossus, Mike Portnoy, would appear on the same song, let alone on a southern-rock number. Coming to think about it, it would have to be an occasion laced with something of a very special, once-in-a-lifetime nature. I mean, despite heavy metal being some sort of a mutual reference point, the stylistic trajectories of these two musicians could not really be further apart. Well, the day is upon us and it will be March 25th, 2022, when the Mascot Label Group‘s subsidiary, Provogue Records, will be releasing a tribute album to celebrate the legendary MOUNTAIN guitarist, Leslie West, who passed away on December 23rd, 2020. The album boasts nothing short of an extraordinary list of guest musicians from bands as diverse as JETHRO TULL, THE DOORS, BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, RAINBOW, and DIXIE DREGS, to name just a few. It goes to show that Leslie West left behind a towering legacy – a brilliant, idiosyncratic sound that has inspired musicians the world over. Hey, I’m neither a die-hard southern rock fan nor a guitarist and even I am quite well acquainted with some of his most famous riffs! After all, MOUNTAIN was one of those forerunners pioneering the hard-rock sound back in the day. Titled “Legacy: A Tribute to Leslie West,” the album is a homage reminiscing on the body of work West left behind. So, the arrangements do not take on any wild tangents but rather faithfully follow the original versions.

First up, guitarist Zakk Wylde (BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, Ozzy Osbourne) features on the track, “Blood of the Sun.” The main riff, what with its retro and bluesy overtones, is not that far from Wylde‘s signature hard-rock style, which is rooted in blues rather prominently. Yes, I could easily imagine BLACK LABEL SOCIETY covering this song, maybe with some added crunch.

Next, guitar maestro Marty Friedman showcases his signature chops at hard-rock balladry on the track “Nantucket Sleighride,” featuring the grand old man of hard rock, Joe Lynn Turner (DEEP PURPLE, RAINBOW) on vocals. For those who aren’t exactly into ballads, Friedman‘s soloing might still be worth lending an ear to – and the same pretty well applies also to the follow-up track, “Theme for an Imaginary Western.” The song is yet another hard-rock ballad – but the “catch” is that this is the very song featuring Dee Snider on vocals and Mike Portnoy on drums. Of course, you will not be presented with a surprise coda in 11/8 time signature but anyhow, this collaboration is something so unheard of that you have to hear it for yourself.

The plot thickens with yet another ballad-type southern rock song – “For Yasgur’s Farm,” featuring Joe Lynn Turner on vocals and Martin Barre of JETHRO TULL on guitars. I must admit that, at this point, I felt a little bit tempted to write the whole album off as music to drink beer to. I’m not categorically against hard rock-ish ballads, but three in a row is a tad too much, really. Then, as though gently proving me wrong, the selection gears up a notch with the track “Why Dontcha,” featuring Steve Morse on guitars and Ronnie Romero on vocals. Romero‘s hard-rock belting resonates with nothing short of a haunting Ronnie James Dio vibe. Thus, it’s no wonder why Richie Blackmore chose him as the lead singer for RICHIE BLACKMORE’S RAINBOW in 2015. Along with the album’s opener, this is one of those tracks that stand out as a perfect song choice considering the featuring guest musicians.

If the collaboration of Snider and Portnoy struck me as something I would not have expected even in my wildest dreams, to see THE DOORS guitarist Robbie Krieger in this sort of framework is something rather unusual too. After all, his 2020 album The Ritual Begins at Sundown was frosted with a good pinch of Frank Zappa-esque jazz mayhem – and his contribution to the sonic witchcraft of THE DOORS did not have much southern rock flavor either. He drops rather impressive slide tricks on “The Doctor,” also featuring Romero on vocals. Of course, those in the know are well aware of the fact that Krieger is a real son of a gun when it comes to slide guitarism.

Last but certainly not least in the series of surprise guests: along comes the guitar virtuoso, Yngwie Malmsteen, featuring his rapid-fire guitar etudes on “Long Red.” Compared to Malmsteen‘s latest solo outing, Parabellum,” he shows a rather surprising amount of self-restraint in terms of shredding here. Yes, there is a myriad of fast little guitar notes here and there, but given the track record of this guy, there could be lots more.

Closing the album, like the icing on a cake, the most iconic MOUNTAIN song of all time, “Mississippi Queen,” features DIRTY HONEY vocalist Marc Labelle on vocals and Slash of GUNS ‘N’ ROSES on guitars. Once again, the choice of guests could not probably have been better. Slash‘s signature style fits the song like a glove.

Like most tribute albums, this offering will undoubtedly be more rewarding to the fans of the band, MOUNTAIN, than others, right? Well, yes, of course – and no, of course not. I’m pretty sure that music aficionados who are into vintage hard rock, southern rock, or guitar-oriented rock in general, will find something worth listening to in this selection. Even with some of the guests adding their personal twists to the music, they do it in a way that’s authentic and respectful. Besides, along with the gargantuan BLUE ÖYSTER CULT hit, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” some of these vintage bangers are easily among the most iconic cowbell songs ever!

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Blood of the Sun (feat. Zakk Wylde)
  2. Nantucket Sleighride (To Owen Coffin) (feat. Joe Lynn Turner & Marty Friedman)
  3. Theme for an Imaginary Western (feat. Dee Snider & Mike Portnoy)
  4. For Yasgur’s Farm (feat. Joe Lynn Turner & Martin Barre)
  5. Why Dontcha (feat. Steve Morse & Ronnie Romero)
  6. Sittin’ On a Rainbow (feat. Elliot Easton & Ronnie Romero)
  7. Never in My Life (feat. Dee Snider & George Lynch)
  8. The Doctor (feat. Robby Krieger & Ronnie Romero)
  9. Silver Paper (feat. Charlie Starr)
  10. Money (Whatcha Gonna Do)/By the River (feat. Randy Bachman & Tal Bachman)
  11. Long Red (feat. Yngwie Malmsteen & Teddy Rondinell)
  12. Mississippi Queen (feat. Slash & Marc Labelle)

Lineup

Rev Jones – bass

Bobby Rondinelli – drums

Label

Provogue Records

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