Jeff Beck: Rock'n'Roll Party (ATCO)

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Jeff Beck and Imelda May: I'm a Fool to Care
Jeff Beck: Rock'n'Roll Party (ATCO)

Even those who have been his most ardent champions concede that guitarist Jeff Beck has always taken his own wayward path, often following a great album with an indifferent one.

He may lack career focus -- he takes time out frequently -- but his recent years have seen him acclaimed for the consistency of his live performances, and the petty terrific album recorded live at Ronnie Scott's. But then he delivered the highly uneven Emotion and Commotion and things went back to what might be called normal transmission.

So this album -- subtitled "honouring Les Paul" -- has all the promising hallmarks of an album where he has been obliged to focus that searing talent into a tribute to the great guitarist/guitar designer -- and it was recorded in the Iridium Jazz Club in New York where the late Paul had been a weekly fixture.

Of course things are never quite so simple, because Les Paul's distinctive guitars and sound had been employed on everything from rock'n'roll and rockabilly to jazz ballads and country music.

So this album, less a showcase for Beck than you might expect (he is discreetly brilliant), goes in a number of different directions, but mercifully does have a sense of coherence as Beck is backed by the band of singer Imelda May.

So May's guitarist/vocalist Darryl Higham gets his shots in with the opening double-hit of Fifties rock'n'roll (Double Talkin' Baby and Cruisin') and then Imelda May brings in some sultry jazz balladry (Cry Me a River) before picking up Forties swing (How High the Moon, a shifty and joyous Sitting on Top of the World, a gently romantic Vaya Con Dios and others leading to rapid-fire and enjoyably kitsch Tiger Rag with Beck making meow noises).

Other guest are Beck's keyboard player Jason Rebello and Trombone Shorty (the theme from Peter Gunn and Rocking is Our Business), Beck takes centre-stage for the Shadows' Apache and the gorgeous Hawaiian-style Sleepwalk, then it is Gary US Bonds bringing the backbeat and handclap on New Orleans . . . and things close with Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats on Twenty Flight Rock.

A journey from rock'n'roll, around the houses and back to square one.

And it is a thoroughly enjoyable trip which more than simply salutes the great Les Paul but brings out the sound of his guitars into these many musical contexts.

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