Review Summary: A vivid, colourful, wild presentation of the Blues.When I started to play the guitar, all I wanted to do was play well and not embarrass myself. There have been times when I did, but not this time. We were recording in NYC and we had just finished Climbing! when I thought, well this sounds pretty good and I was proud of it.
– Leslie West
Cream’s impact on the musical scenery was immensely huge. The first ever Power Trio, took Psychedelic Rock, combined it with the British Blues and increased the volumes of their amps to the maximum, thus creating an unusual hybrid. Their style was quite unique and immeasurably influential, affecting acts like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Rush. Leslie West was yet another person who was charmed by Cream’s music, when he listened to Disraeli Gears
. Leslie West, a guitarist/vocalist of enormous size, had a small musical background in the late 60’s. His first band were The Vagrants, a local band in New City, with which West wrote two minor hits. Their future was ambiguous at the beginning, but Felix Pappalardi, the producer of Cream’s sophomore and most successful effort, witnessed the band playing and realised their potential. He immediately signed them to Atlantic records and produced Vagrants’s minor hits. West recalls his first cooperation as a professional musician:
My Brother Larry and I started a band called The Vagrants. We were sucky in the beginning but kept getting better. Then came time to record. We could not get it good enough until we met Pappalardi. We were on Atco records and they sent him to listen to us and he was going to produce a few singles. It was great - he knew his *** and we did not. So we learned a great deal. At least I thought I did. Nothing really happened with us and him until one day I hear an album called Disraeli Gears by a group called Cream. I turn it over and see it was produced by Felix Pappalardi. Was I shocked! I said to my brother, how come we don’t sound like Cream " He said, because we suck that’s why. So we went to the Village Theater, which became the Fillmore East. When the curtain opened, my jaw dropped and I now know what my brother was talking about.
These words describe the impact Cream had on West. Their music was equally important to Pappalardi’s patriarchal guidance. His fruitful collaboration with West didn’t stop when the latter left The Vagrants to record his first solo album titled Mountain
. In a gesture of pure sportsmanship, Pappalardi not only produced it, but played as well keyboards and bass on the record. The final results were impressive and after Cream’s dissolution the duo formed a partnership called Mountain. Consequently, Climbing!
was the result of the combined forces between West and Pappalardi.
The Rolling Stones magazine once described Mountain as “a louder version of Cream”. That characterization doesn’t seem to be accurate enough. Surely, Mountain were somewhat louder than Cream and West’s playing style is reminiscent of Clapton’s, but upon listening to Mountain’s debut you won’t find any Psychedelic elements. Apart from that, drawing any comparisons between each bassist and each drummer would be at best inept as Cream were consisted of two very talented and diverse musicians. So, I would advice you not to approach Climbing!
thinking of it as a Cream vol. 5 album. Mountain’s debut is a combination of Blues with Hard Rock and it is done in the American old-fashioned way. So, it’s important to keep in mind that this is American Rock ‘n’ Roll not British.
I would use two words as an appropriate description of Climbing!
; colourful and diverse. Colourful because the music is embodied with so much detail and passionate intensity and diverse because the tracks are not composed solely by the three basic instruments (guitar, bass, drums). Apart from the acoustic guitars, there is a rich variety of keyboard and percussion instruments. All of these arrangements add a unique Wild West flavor and the atmosphere is totally different compared to that late 60’s early 70’s drug-influenced aura, that most of the Psychedelic groups tried to create. Another reason why this album sounds great is because of the shared vocals. Leslie West and Felix Pappalardi share their duties and their roles are altered with each song. The way they are perfectly attached to their roles (West does the heavy parts, and Pappalardi the mellow ones), makes for a pretty neat outcome as both of these guys have a great voice and it’s a pleasure to listen to their combined vocals.
West’s playing performance however overshadows the other members of the group. West was a changed man since he saw Clapton play and he devoted himself to practice intensely on a daily basis. A true devotee of Clapton, West even tried to achieve the exact same tone that Slowhand employed on Disraeli Gears
, the album that changed West’s life. And despite the fact that he didn’t manage to hit it 100%, the gigantic guitarist came up with an incredibly hot tone that added personality to the tracks. But apart from technical issues, perhaps West’s greatest achievement, is his ability to encompass a great amount of emotion with his warm, heartfelt soloing. He can transform the guitar, give life to this inanimate object, with his playing. Seriously, he is one of the few guitarists out there who can make a Gibson Les Paul cry(check out his solos in the second track if you need proof). His riffing is not bad either and here, during the recording sessions of this album, West came up with some of the best riffs of his entire career. The classic, proto-metal hit Mississippi Queen
, the bluesy and incredibly catchy Never In My Life
, the tender and joyful Sliver Paper
and the Boogie Sittin’ On A Rainbow
, are all great examples of traditional guitar-driven Dinosaur Rock. Furthermore, if West’s guitar playing is the heart of this record, the intellectualism and thoughtful production of Felix Pappalardi are certainly the brains, and part of the magic must be dedicated to his coherent work.
Unfortunately and for many reasons, Mountain was never again able to reproduce the magic of their debut. After that, the band recorded three more studio albums but things went quickly downhill after the release of their debut. Mountain remained relatively unknown to the general public despite the fact that Climbing!
is still to this day one of the best Rock albums ever recorded. If you consider yourself a fan of Classic Rock, you owe yourself a chance to listen to this album.
Theme for an Imaginary Western
Boys in the Band