Music

Les Paul: The Best of Les Paul: 20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection

Kevin Smith

Les Paul

The Best of Les Paul: 20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection

Label: Decca
US Release Date: 2001-10-30
Amazon
iTunes

Sure we're all familiar with his technical innovations (consciously or otherwise) including contributions like �- even arguably inventing �- the solid body guitar and multi-track recording. Not to mention the famed guitar that bears his name (which this 86-year-old continues to collect royalties on every time some snot-nosed hack drops his trust fund money on one). But how many of us have actually listened to a Les Paul record? The Best of Les Paul: 20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection may be as good a place as any to start. This compilation covers Paul's years with Decca Records from 1944 to 1948 before he had perfected his innovative recording technique and was subsequently released from his contract for a perceived lack of commercial appeal. As a result, the "gee whiz" factor on this disc is relatively low and the focus is instead on Paul's adept handling of jazz, country, and pop standards.

The 12 songs are culled from only seven sessions which not only provide a hint as to how in demand as a session musician Paul was, but also the corresponding ethic with which he approached the work. He is skillfully accompanied by his trio comprising upright bass (future competitor Leo Fender hadn't yet invented the electric version), piano, and the lost art of percussive acoustic rhythm guitar. Paul infuses the Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin compositions with his trademark lightning fast leads suggesting that perhaps as early as 1944 he was feeling constrained by such fare yet managing to maintain a respectful reverence of the material. He casts a wide enough net to include a then in-vogue Hawaiian song, "Hawaiian Paradise", as well as a country tune "Steel Guitar Rag". The reality, however, is that the songs, while incorporating some stylistic elements of their respective genres, quickly return to Paul's most comfortable milieu of melodic jazz. He works with vocalists on only a handful of the songs, including Bing Crosby on "It's Been a Long, Long Time" and the Andrews Sisters on "Rumors Are Flying", proving that he is equally well versed in accompanying as he is in leading. Crosby's timeless croon remains as inviting as a pair of broken-in slippers next to a warm fireplace while either the Andrews Sisters or their accompanying orchestra can be held accountable for providing the only truly musty smelling song on the disc.

All in all, Paul provides pleasant if not challenging jazz with the occasional glimpse of virtuosity subtly snuck in under the radar. The collection could conceivably be filed by a misguided record store clerk under the dreaded "Easy Listening" category just as easily as the eminently more respectable "jazz" heading. After listening to this disc, however, the ultimate question may be does Paul still have relevance over 50 years later to two subsequent generations weaned not only on the distortion pedal but also the drum machine? As history has proven time and again, each successive generation of musicians has consistently rediscovered earlier music and converged on facets relevant to their own distinctive milieu. Rock musicians of the '60s found the blueprint for hard rock and heavy metal encoded in the blues, DJs created hip-hop from breakbeats buried in the grooves of funk and soul vinyl. With this in mind, it may be high time for Les Paul to be rediscovered. You never know what you might find.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Music

Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.