Sound: Les Paul's influence on scores of guitarists is undeniable, and the late innovator's passing drove that point home even more when notable axe men from every genre spoke of his influence on their individual playing. It seems only fitting that arguably one of the most groundbreaking guitarists in his own right, Jeff Beck, stepped up to help create a concert commemorating Paul's musical legacy. The show, billed as A Celebration of Les Paul and sponsored by Gibson, took place at New York City's Iridium Jazz Club, where Paul performed regularly up until the last years of his life. With the help of such artists as the Imelda May Band, guitarist/vocalist Brian Setzer, as well as Gary U.S. Bonds and Trombone Shorty, Beck brings new life to 27 classic tracks, many of which were made famous by the dynamic duo of Les Paul and Mary Ford. That show, recorded on what would have been on Paul's 95th birthday, can now be viewed on the DVD/Blu-ray Jeff Beck's Rock N' Roll Party Honoring Les Paul.
The vintage essence heard on many of those early Paul/Ford numbers is captured beautifully, particularly due to the selection of the performers. Vocalist Imelda May chose to pre-record many of her backing harmonies, effectively mimicking the complex, Andrew Sisters-like sound that Ford created. The back-and-forth play between May and Beck on such numbers like Poor Boy, How High The Moon, Bye Bye Blues, and Tiger Rag is both engaging and fascinating to watch. Director Milton Lage also needs to be given a big pat on the back because his crew did not skimp on getting close-ups of Beck's solo work fingerpicking intricacies and all.
Musically the entire DVD does feel like a slice out of the 50's, which of course is perfectly suited for guest stars like Brian Setzer. While Setzer is only featured on two tracks (Twenty Flight Rock and Shake, Rattle, and Roll), the Stray Cat's sleek soloing skills still sound impeccable on that classic Gretsch. Darrel Higham of the Imelda May Band deserves just as much credit for recreating the Elvis Presley-like style, vibrato, and groove to a tee on songs like Baby Let's Play House and Train Kept A Rollin.' // 10
Overall Impression: The execution of the 20 songs on Jeff Beck's Rock N' Roll Party Honoring Les Paul, as you might expect, is impeccable. If rockabilly or old school rock is not your thing, then these 27 songs may wear on you after awhile. It's hard not to at least appreciate both the showmanship and talent of the musicians onstage, however, and it's absolutely a fitting tribute to a man who spent the majority of his life performing setlists like the one heard on the new DVD. // 9