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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2007
Recorded in 1975, this LP (augmented here by four bonus tracks) found two innovators of electric guitar playing in easy-going sessions filled with friendly instrumental interplay. The elder of the two, Les Paul, had been effectively retired for a decade when Atkins lured him into the studio. The seeds had been planted a few months earlier when the guitarists met up in a New York hotel room for an informal jam session; the music flowed so smoothly that it suggested a recording date was in order.

The connection between Paul and Atkins happened many years before they met. Paul's jazz trio featured Atkins' half brother Jimmy as a vocalist and rhythm guitarist at the end of the 1930s, and as the younger Atkins followed his brother's work, he picked up the band leader's fingerings. Atkins' love of Merle Travis led him more towards country, but like Paul, he always kept a love of pop and jazz in his playing. Aktins even acquired one of Les Paul's guitars, and used it on his very first session for RCA.

By the mid-70s Les Paul was retired and Chet Atkins was increasingly absorbed by executive work at RCA Nashville. In 1974 Atkins paired himself with Merle Travis for an album, The Atkins-Travis Travelling Show, which prompted a friend to suggest he try a pairing with Les Paul. The two guitarists worked out a song list that collected pop and jazz standards, with arrangements that merged details from each of their lengthy recording and performing careers.

With Atkins' guitar stage left, and Paul's stage right, the disc plays like a conversation, with each taking turns at lead between some coordinated unison playing. The difference in their styles is subtle but immediate, with Atkins' staccato inflections often more country and blue than the cool of Paul's jazz fingerings. The use of head (non-written) arrangements gave these sessions a very organic feel, with the Nashville rhythm section (piano, drums, bass, guitar) integrated seamlessly with the guitarists. There's some friendly competition, with each showing off their remarkable chops and goading the other to greater heights, and there's plenty of friendly verbal jousting before, after and during the takes. Paul used his renowned overdubbing on only a pair of tracks ("Caravan" and "Lover Come back to Me"), so the sessions remained quite spontaneous.

The four bonus tracks include an alternate version of "Caravan," as well as a rehearsal of "Moonglow / Picnic" that picks up slowly as the duo finds their way through the medley, and eventually dissolves into their own instant review of the performance. Superstar pairings have become such common "events" that they've lost a great deal of their magic, but this one - two genius innovators getting together just to play - is still as musically rich as the day it was originally recorded. [©2007 hyperbolium dot com]
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2005
If you don't get any other Chet and/or Les album/CD's, get this one.

It's a wonderful chance to hear two of the greatest electric guitarists together. The vastly different styles of these two are a perfect blend, and the meeting of two old pros is classic. It's a lot of fun and great music.

I'm sure you'll enjoy it.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 1998
The playful joy found in the interplay between These two masters of the guitar make you wish this record wouldn't stop! Part of the fun comes from the between songs banter between the "boys" left in tact. My only wish is that it was longer. Just can't get enough of these two together.
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Chet Atkins reminds me of my father who used to play every evening in the living room after dinner. He'd listen to this album, get a good laugh, and start playing Caravan or Avalon. I have not seen my father for 20 years now but this record reminds me of those days. Days when I'd rather watch TV instead of listen to dad's picking. Days when country music was definitely not for a 10- or 11-year old growing up in southern California. Now that I have kids with whom I'd like to spend more of my time with, I realize the plain simple fun that my father was trying to have. He wasn't professional, but when he played with friends or relatives, it sounded like the fun Chet and Les are having on this album. I'd really like to dedicate this review to my father who lives somewhere in the US. We've lost contact for the last 20-some years, but I know he's listening to the analog version of this album very often. It was his favorite and now I know why.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2007
Suberb picking by two masters of the electric guitar. Among my favorite guitar players I would rank Jackie King, James Burton, Mark Knofler, Bierelli Legrande, Earl Klugh, Charlie Byrd, Philip Cathrine and Tony Rice. Ask any of these greats and I'm confident each would site both Chet Atkins and Les Paul as their most signifacant influences. You really can't argue with that. Afterall Les Paul virtually invented the solid body electric guitar. And it doesn't stop there. His electronic wizardry made multi-tracking possible, along with a host of technical innovations. And who had more impact as a virtuoso instumentalist among these guitar giants than Chet Atkins? The list of artist he accompanied is almost endless. Yes, seemingly everyone from Elvis to Dolly Parton were backed by Chet. His beautiful understated style of picking set the standard for a whole generation of players and is still evident today.

Chester & Lester re-released after more than twenty years, brings together these two titans of the electric guitar. And boy oh boy does it work. These guys sound as if they were born to play together. There simply is not a bad track on this session. The remastered sound, the insightful liner notes and the bonus material all make this an absolutely essential recording. If you can't get into the toe-tapping groove of these two masters, then perhaps you ought to pick up on some Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, Black Sabath or Vanilla Fudge. Turn the volume way up and drown your ears in a wash of psychadellic noise. I'm not knocking any of those artists, but in my opinion they've got a whole lot to learn from the likes of Chester and Lester.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2007
Chester & Lester has been reissued simultaneously with The Essential Chet Atkins in an expanded edition. Recorded in 1975 when Paul, best known to the rock generation as a guitar designer, was sixty years old and had been pretty much retired from active playing for the previous decade. Atkins, eleven years younger, had listened to Paul on the radio as a youngster and tried to figure out what he was doing, much as Vince Gill and others later did with Atkins.

When Chet coaxed Les into a Nashville studio, the resulting album captured the two musical giants sitting around playing standards, joking and having a good ole time, making it up as they went along and producing truly transcendent music. The guitar playing is simply delicious as they trade licks and tricks and goose one another with surprising turns of phrase, sometimes breaking into laughter in the middle of a song.

Chester & Lester is a gas. These guys did things with electric guitars that over-amplified hotshots could not even imagine. Here they give a master class in the art of guitar playing.

copyright © 2007 Port Folio Weekly/Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.
Originally published in Port Folio Weekly - August 14, 2007
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2009
Les Paul died today. And all the television networks ended their nightly news with tributes to "the guitar legend." [CBS I think, did the best tribute; followed by NBC's (slightly longer) appreciation; the ABC News tribute to Les Paul was shorter, but well-done too.] All three networks spoke dutifully about his two technical achievements: the Les Paul signature model electric guitar(s) and of his pioneering work in multi-track recording (the first 'AMPEX' 8 track, built to his specs).

The most endearing comment (I thought) came from 70s rocker Steve Miller, who recalled the time when he was "only five years old" and Les Paul (who knew his parents) showed him some licks on the guitar: "He and Mary Ford BOTH showed me (some chords). I never forgot that!"

Les Paul's recollection (of same): "One day -- he must have been 5 years old -- Steve said to me, 'Are you Mr. Paul?' I said yes. He was looking at my guitar and I asked him, 'Do you play guitar?' And he said, 'A little bit.' So I handed him my guitar and he played it and I said, 'Gee, you're good. Someday you'll be doing what I'm doing.' I was his mentor . . . but then I watched him take everything he admired and copied and learned and become Steve Miller. He's a very, very good blues guitarist."


Chet Atkins, who lured Les Paul back into the studio for these Grammy-winning recordings, said he and Les were influenced by the "fire" of the Belgian jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt; Chet (who told this reviewer during a 1971 radio interview, that "the only person I ever asked for an autograph was Django,") Chet always insisted that, from the start of Les Paul's career in 1937, "Django had something to do with the fire -- the Gypsy fire, with which Les plays."

Chet recalled (with a laugh) his own "first (1940s) meeting" with Les Paul: "I was working in Springfield, Missouri, on (radio station) KWTO . . . playing a (live) show around noon, when people were allowed to gather around the studio to watch us.

"I noticed an awfully nice looking guy watching me like a hawk. I thought he was a fan, so I decided to knock him out with a few hot licks - licks I'd `borrowed' from Les Paul (radio performances). I admired Les Paul very much, and when I started to show off in those days, I'd usually play some of his licks. And so I started playing Les Paul licks for this `fan.'

"After the show went off the air, this guy came into the studio and said, "Are you Chet Atkins? I'm Les Paul!"

It took another thirty years before the two men went into the recording studio together to make this album: included were songs each had recorded independently, in the intervening decades. One of Amazon's editorial writers, Rich Kienzle, summed up (a decade ago) what made this album Les & Chet's finest hour:

"In some cases, such as `It's Been a Long, Long Time' for Les, and `Hot Toddy' for Chet, they revisited songs they recorded years earlier. Les, downplaying his electronic wizardry, proved that he didn't need it to dazzle. Chet, who'd come to favor sterile perfection over passion, unleashed his old intensity in the presence of a fellow virtuoso."

In his original vinyl album liner notes (you'd need a microscope to read them on the CD) jazz writer Nat Hentoff recalled the "infectiously informal aura" of this recording session - "conceived some months before this recording in Nashville, while Chet was in New York for a tour by Arthur Fiedler.

"Les was also in the city and the two enjoyed a long afternoon (playing guitars) in a room at the Hotel Warwick. So good and fulfilling a time was had by all, that this album was the logical (outcome)."

Prophetically, (his notes were written in 1976) Nat Hentoff concluded that,

"What's happening here is a high-spirited jamming - the meeting of two mighty peers, each of whom has helped expand the possibilities of the guitar.

"I expect there are going to be young pickers, in different towns and countries, playing parts of this set again and again so they can steal the licks. And that, after all, is how culture is transmitted.

"Meanwhile, for all of us who aren't pickers, the kicks are also found in the wizardry of it all - hearing the sounds of surprise [in] the regeneration of these tunes."

NOTE: This album "Chester & Lester" -- and its follow-up, "Guitar Monsters" -- was briefly available as a 2-in-1 `import' CD from BMG Japan; it's worth paying twice the money to get yourself that album, which has double the fun!

A personal favorite (a very funny song) was co-written by Chet, titled, "I'm Your Greatest Fan," with spoken introductions to snatches of popular songs played by guitarists OTHER than Chet & Les; the two ridicule each other's playing, pretending to recall famous, best-selling melodies (made popular in the 60s by others -- but never recorded by EITHER Chet or Les; so each plays fractured versions of songs like "Guitar Boogie" and "Raunchy" - while claiming to have "loved your version of that one!"

Mark Blackburn
Winnipeg Manitoba Canada
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2008
Others before me have said it far better them I but I love the CD so much I had to add my voice. Les Paul and Chet Atkins are all time greats and they have great chemistry. I heard their rendition of the song Brazil but couldn't find it anywhere. Finally I found it on Chester and Lester Guitar Monsters. I was only able to get the CD used and I paid $99 for it and after listening to it I would have paid more and counted it well worth it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2007
For anyone who loves the guitar and great guitar players this is a 'must have' CD. As someone who can barely eke out the opening chords to the Peter Gunn Theme on my guitar I can appreciate the incredible genius of these two artists. The music is amazing and the interchange between the two is just plain fun. Here's two guys jamming and having a ball and it shows in the music. This CD is a re-issue of an out-of-print original and adds four bonus tracks so it well worth buying.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2008
Whether you are a guitar player or just love to hear the subtle nuances of this instrument, this CD is for you.

Some reviewers disliked the talking in the CD, but that's what it was all about; two master collaborating on the music. Not only does the verbal banter between these two gentlemen add to the mix, but the banter between them musically places them equally among the masters of improvisation.

The art of musical call and response bouncing back and forth between them while thoughfully contributing to the music has separated them from us mere guitar-playing mortals.

Sit back and enjoy listening to these two masters. For those of us who have been in a recording studio, we can just smile and say, "You would have to be there to appreciate it".
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