Back when rock supersessions were supposed to be hot shit, this kind of musical jam wouldn’t have had a rat’s chance of being recorded, much less noticed, by anyone other than guitar fans.
Happily, all that has changed and now the uniting on wax of these guitar masters for the first time ever (one would be tempted to call them the Paganinis of the guitar except that history shows that Paganini was the Paganini of guitar before he was the Paganini of violin) is going to attract the attention and respect it deserves.
Les Paul and Chet Atkins have done more to popularize the guitar and expand the limits of what it can do than any other living guitarists. Paul, after enormous success in the Fifties with his overdubbed and multitracked recordings with vocalist Mary Ford, had all but disappeared until last year. Atkins, who has quietly pursued a double-faceted career as performer and producer, cut an album over a year ago with Merle Travis (as the first widely influential fingerpicker he’d be the logical addition to make this a 20th-century living guitar triumvirate), but it gained little notice.
That likely won’t happen to Chester & Lester, for it’s a breathtaking showcase of expertise that sounds effortless and natural until you listen to other guitarists and realize that Paul and Atkins, for sheer technical ability, cannot be equaled by any working guitarist except Segovia. Both men were heavily influenced by the late Django Reinhardt, although they’ve taken that influence in different directions: Paul to a thrilling and skating speed picking and Atkins to a graceful, seemingly weightless fluidity.
Together, the two styles fuse to form a lilting, finely crafted reason for Atkins and Paul to show off. Song titles matter not; they could have recorded “Theme from S.W.A.T.” 12 times and this would still be a wonderful record.