Chet Atkins & Les Paul - Chester & Lester

Chet Atkins and Les Paul
Chester & Lester


First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2007, Volume 14, #9

Written by John Metzger

Fri September 28, 2007, 06:45 AM CDT


Chet Atkins and Les Paulís Chester & Lester is, first and foremost, a showcase for two guitar virtuosos, yet it also is an album that easily could be appreciated by those with more mainstream-minded tastes. Born from an impromptu meeting in a hotel room in New York and recorded over the course of two consecutive days in May 1975, the outing serves as a prime example of how to show off without sounding pretentious.

Although it commonly is considered to be a country-oriented effort ó largely because it was made in Nashville with a stellar assemblage of the cityís finest studio musicians ó Chester & Lester truly defies categorization. In crafting the endeavor, Atkins and Paul selected songs with which they both were intimately familiar, and they left no stone unturned as they mixed blues, jazz, country, folk, rock, and pop while tackling everything from Duke Ellingtonís Caravan to Sammy Cahnís Itís Been a Long, Long Time to Fred Roseís Deed I Do. Although their medley of Moonglow and Picnic bears hints of Nashville-ian twang, this proves to be the starting point, rather than the ending point, for the duo.

In listening to Chester & Lester, one is immediately struck by the effortlessness with which its music flows. Although Atkins and Paul employed tightly scripted arrangements, they also managed to retain the organic essence of a casual jam session. By providing a backdrop for the duo that was sturdy but understated, the rhythm section conjured a relaxed, easy-going mood. Likewise, both the camaraderie and the sense of free-spirited fun that permeated the studio are apparent in Atkinsí and Paulís performances, and the banter between them merely reinforces the reverence that they had for each other.

Recently remastered, Chester & Lester has obtained a clarity that is unparalleled. Each note that Atkins and Paul strike rings true, and the spontaneous beauty that they muster through their give-and-take is positively breathtaking. Each responds to the other in about as perfect a fashion as one can imagine. Neither the alternate version of Caravan nor the rehearsal medley of Moonglow and Picnic is superior to what was featured on the album itself. Nevertheless, both of these recently unearthed tracks provide insight to the duoís creative process. On the other hand, the previously unissued songs The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise and You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me are so good that itís puzzling that they were left on the cutting room floor. Time and again ó on the bonus cuts as well as on the tunes that appeared on the original endeavor ó Paulís flamboyant agility is pitted against Atkinsí graceful fluidity, and the result is a moving and mesmerizing set of material from a pair of living legends who simply had engaged in a little friendly competition. In other words, Chester & Lester is a summit of guitarists that succeeds on more than just the level of their technical proficiency. starstarstarstar

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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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