Les Paul, famous for his jazz guitar stylings, his invention of the solid body Les Paul electric guitar, and his technological advancements in multi-track recording (a technique that today dominates the recording industry), sits down on Les Paul & Friends with a long list of rock n’ roll kings like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Buddy Guy, Sting, Sam Cooke, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Perry, SteveMiller and more. The possibilities here should be promising.
The results, however, are mixed. The best songs are those with the least amount of artists on the track. Joss Stone and Sting bring home the best vocal trophy with “Love Sneakin’ up on You,” a song first made popular by Bonnie Raitt. The hip-hop style of “How High the Moon” sung by Alsou leaves the listener puzzled – why is this song on a Les Paul album? The only song that exclusively features Les Paul’s guitar playing is”Caravan,” the shortest song on the album at 2:08 providing a quick smile, but a mere skeleton of the young Les Paul’s art, when blistering jazz tempos all over the fretboard were a signature and very much expected sound.
The rest of the album is muddled by too many musicians in the studio. Most songs have 3-5 guitar players, making it difficult to discern who is playing “Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl” which is led by an over-dubbed Buddy Guy vocal, followed by five guitar players that would be worth mentioning if only their playing was identifiable. “Freedom Special” is a similar hodge-podge of ambiguous guitar playing, sounding like that song always playing in shopping mall elevators. It is always that same song, right?
Les Paul is ninety years old. This fact alone puts this release in a category all its own: the 90 and over club. Furthermore, Les Paul’s contribution to music is certainly deserving of a homage album filled with superstars. But it’s hard not to wonder if the music could have been better, or even more cynically if the album was a money driven record executive’s idea.