Leslie West has been in command of one of the biggest, boldest electric guitar tones known to man or beast from 1969’s Woodstock festival, which introduced his group Mountain to the pages of music history, through his riveting new album The Unusual Suspects. And his voice is even more recognizable — a powerful mix of honey and gravel that falls somewhere between Otis Redding and King Kong.
At age 65, West stands entirely undiminished on The Unusual Suspects, a proud mix of boogies, blues, rockers and ballads that puts his songwriting skills at the fore in tunes like the hard rocking “Mississippi Queen” flashback “Mudflap Mama” and the sweet, soulful love song “You and Me.”
West’s title for the album was inspired by his handpicked roster of A-list six-string co-stars, which includes Z.Z. Top’s Billy Gibbons, Slash, ex-Ozzy Osbourne foil Zakk Wylde, blues-rock firebrand Joe Bonamassa and L.A. session giant and Toto leader Steve Lukather. The other distinguished guest is drummer Kenny Aronoff, whose powerhouse style has made him a first-call accomplice for John Fogerty, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart and many others.
“These guys don’t show up to play on everybody’s albums,” West declares. “They’re all stars in their own right, and fantastic players — every one with their own sound and style, and about as far from ‘the usual suspects’ as it gets.”
They also have deep musical and personal connections to West. He and Mascot/Provogue labelmate Lukather, who adds acoustic guitar to the piano-based boogie “One More Drink for the Road,” have been friends for decades. As for Gibbons, he and West met during Z.Z. Top’s first major tour, when Gibbon’s band got its big break opening for Mountain. Slash — of Velvet Revolver, Snakepit and Guns N’ Roses fame — has cited West as an influence on his own brawny playing. Ditto for Wylde, who affectionately refers to West as “Dad.” And Bonamassa was so moved by West’s earlier recording of Willie Dixon and Eddie Boyd’s blues standard “Third Degree” on 2004’s Guitarded that he requested they cut it again for The Unusual Suspects.