Sound: When you immerse yourself in rock music for the good part of your life, you usually come to associate the Les Paul guitar with a few biggies - namely Jimmy Page, Slash, and Keith Richards. With it's undeniably thick, powerful tone, the Les Paul has become a staple among rock guitarists and the namesake has deservedly been exalted in various tribute albums. The latest nod to the master guitarsmith is titled Les Paul & Friends: A Tribute To A Legend, which does feature another helping of heavy hitters. Joe Perry, Peter Frampton, Richie Sambora, and even Slash are among the guest musicians, and you're pretty much guaranteed a quality product simply by having these names attached. But do be warned: If you're expecting something in line with the styles of rock they've recorded over the years, you'll be in for a rude awakening. The album is easier to describe it as Adult Contemporary more than anything. That being said, the 93-year-old Les Paul is a featured player in almost every track, and it's a bit awe-inspiring to hear the man in action.
Starting everything off is The Good Luck You're Having, a bluesy track played by guitar master Joe Bonamassa. There's a distinct Stevie Ray Vaughn feel to it at times, and it's one of the standouts because of it's key solo work and energy. It would have been great to hear a bit more solo work like Bonamassa's on the record, and a few of the tracks do seem as focused on the vocal work as much as they are on the guitars. There are some fantastic singers who lend their talents, but the album only comes alive when things begin to sound like an ever-changing jam session.
For the Slash fans out there, the Velvet Revolver/Guns N' Roses guitarist does not disappoint. Playing as the lone guitarist on an instrumental called Vocalise, Slash keeps thing subtle, but heavy. It consists of beautiful solo work that builds throughout, although it never reaches a full-on rock vibe. Most of the tracks do keep to more of a soft rock vibe, so just be prepared for restraint on the guitarists' part. Richie Sambora also shows up as vocalist and guitarist on the closing track Great Hall Of Fame, which doesn't have the impact of Slash's instrumental, but does have an inspirational theme as the closing number.
The Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik delivers a version of U2's All I Want Is You, which although played at the same tempo as the original, loses a bit of the drama without The Edge's heavy delay. Peter Frampton and Les Paul laid down their own guitar tracks on this particular song as well, and it would have been great to get a more defined breakdown of who was playing what. In any case, it's a touching version, but it's played very similarly to the original. The Edge is another Les Paul player and his influence has been undeniable, so it is understandable that the makers of Les Paul & Friends would want to give listeners various styles that have been created with the legendary guitar. // 8
Lyrics: There are a good number of songs on the album that will be fairly familiar to listeners, particularly the cover of U2's All I Want Is You. The other tracks span everything from jazz to blues to funk, so you're getting plenty of diversity in the lyrical department as well. That kind of diversity allows for an interesting journey, although at times the vocalists tend to grab the spotlight. The guitar work is still essentially what Les Paul & Friends is designed to celebrate, and in the end the lyrics become secondary. // 9
Overall Impression: While it would have been nice to feature one or maybe even two rock songs, the album still covers a lot of ground musically. It might not necessarily be the ground that clicks with the fans of Slash, but Les Paul obviously has influenced an abundance of genres that came well before the GN'R guitarist was even born. In fact, there are probably some country fans who might be annoyed that their genre wasn't selected as part of the tribute, either. We could go on and on about how many musicians that Les Paul has touched over the years, and in the end, hearing the guitarist still hold his own with the likes of Frampton or Joe Perry is a pretty cool thing. // 9