Sound: The Guitar Masters series' latest release is one that is fairly timely (and honorable) at the very least. With Les Paul's passing back in August of 2009, there's plenty of reflection upon the influence that the musical trailblazer had on generations of guitarists. While Guitar Masters Vol. 3 & 4: Les Paul Dedication doesn't necessarily devote most of its tracklist to Paul's own music, it does pay homage to him through the adventurous quality that the featured musicians bring to the table. The roster includes everyone from the man who spearheaded and produced the project, Brian Tarquin, to Dire Straits' Hal Lindes to Megadeth's Chris Poland. There is no shortage of jaw-dropping talent on the 2-CD offering, and in that respect it truly does pay its respect to Les Paul.
The collection couldn't begin more aptly than with one of Les Paul & His Trio's own selections, Why Do I Love You? Classy in execution and perfect example from his heyday, the track is a welcome addition to the 24 other songs. The remaining tracks take on a much more modern feel, even the ones that are rerecorded versions of past favorites like El Becko (a cover featuring Jeff Beck's touring mate Gary Hoey) and Steely Dan's Peg, performed by Chuck Loeb with a much funkier approach. The classic Beck track Blue Wind shines the spotlight on bassist Billy Sheehan as much as Doug Doppler, with both musicians delivering insanely good solos throughout the track.
There's a good balance between slower ballads and raw rock tunes, which keeps the CDs' momentum going. It's usually the up-tempo tracks that do steal the show, however, with Howard Hart's Hell Kat channeling a Stevie Wonder vibe and Leslie West/Randy Coven's Moby Dick ultimately becoming a jammers' paradise. Combining the 1950's traditional rock and roll style with more contemporary gritty blues work, Sammy Dee Morton Strat Struttin is a standout in its own right.
There's certainly a wide range of guitarists represented on Les Paul Dedication, but the most unexpected and refreshing one is the metal world's own Chris Poland. The Megadeth guitarist can't be accused to sticking to one genre with Tarquinius Maximus, which although does have its distortion-fueled moments, also veers into polished, restrained pretty moments. The biggie on Vol. 4, however, is undoubtedly Steve Vai's Funk Me Tender (also featuring Randy Coven), an opener that delivers all the virtuosity and experimental goodness you'd expect from a Vai track. // 9
Lyrics: Les Paul Dedication doesn't take away from the theme at hand the art of the guitar. The 25 tracks on the CDs are fully instrumental and vocalists have been given the day off. // 10
Overall Impression: The Guitar Masters Vol. 3 & 4: Les Paul Dedication is a collection that should be fully appreciated by anyone who has made the guitar his or her chosen instrument. While the title is slightly misleading by the fact you might assume there would be a bit more Les Paul material within the content, it's still a fitting and respectful tribute. It would have been satisfying to possibly have even more metal guitarists included on the compilation, but these are two CDs that are enjoyable listens and excellent study guides. // 9