By Bill Adams
No one ever realizes how much music Saul “Slash” Hudson has made until a set like Made In Stoke comes out. The image of Slash as the top hat-wearing guitar god of Guns N’ Roses is the one permanently emblazoned on the mind’s eye of most, but there’s actually a whole lot more in the guitarist’s songbook than that; there is Slash’s Snakepit – which has been an on-again-off-again endeavor since 1994, Velvet Revolver from the early new millennium and the guitarist’s solo work which first came to light in 2010. All told, there are ten albums on which Slash has appeared as a core member of of the band and nine for which he has contributed songwriting. It’s actually a surprising body of work; and that fact comes to light on Made In Stoke because care has been taken to make sure that a bit of music from every turn throughout the guitarist’s career has been included. For some fans, that breadth of material will be enlightening, but anyone who hears Made In Stoke will be floored when they find that the band which accompanies the guitarist (Alter Bridge singer/bassist Myles Kennedy, former Age Of Electric singer/guitarist Todd Kerns, former Theory Of A Deadman drummer Brent Fitz and Bobby Schneck – once the touring guitarist for Weezer) is solid and really tries to help illustrate the figurative “connective tissue” which is present in each of these songs and can only be called Slash’s unique songwriting sensibility.
As much as Made In Stoke is a set to respect for the way it assembles a near quarter-century of songwriting into a coherent and consistently written presentation, there’s no way to deny the tingles that some listeners will feel as the band faithfully reproduces songs like “Nightrain,” “Rocket Queen,” “Civil War,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Mr. Brownstone,” “Paradise City” and “Slither,” because each proves to be a classic as potent in 2011 as they were the day they were first performed. It cannot be said that any of these takes would be mistaken for the originals (neither Kennedy nor Kerns has a voice comparable to that of Axl Rose or Scott Weiland in their prime), but the unbridled passion of these performances is genuine and infectious, and will strike all the right chords with ears who remember them from back in the day. The power is there in the performance but, if that isn’t enough, the thing that will win listeners over best is the signature tone of Slash’s Gibson Les Paul; that irreplaceable sound is omnipresent on Made In Stoke, and each lick of it dwarfs the presence of every other guitarist Axl Rose has recruited to re-enact them since without even trying – it’s beautiful and ageless here.
In between the songs that everyone knows (and, conspicuously, everyone is singing along with on this album), the songs from Slash’s Snakepit and solo album cannot go overlooked. Particular standouts like “Back From Cali,” “Beggars & Hangers On” and “Watch This” all seek to highlight that while Slash doesn’t sing, there is most definitely the unique stamp of an accomplished songwriter present. That stamp may have been obscured in those bands to which Slash has contributed before, but it really shines here; these songs may be virtually unknown by everyone other than the most dogged fans, but they stand up as solid as the classics do in this set, which says something of the guitarist’s understated ability, but also to his modesty that he has allowed others to take the limelight on his work so often before.
All of those elements – the songs, the performances of them on Made In Stoke, the realization that they are the work of one of the most soft-spoken but excellent songwriters in rock n’ roll – make for an excellent offering in Made In Stoke and will amount to a great surprise for long-time fans. Who knew that Slash was so good at anything other than knocking out great, classic licks for almost thirty years? Some fans might have, but Made In Stoke shows makes the point unavoidable; these are great, classic songs all around.
Bill Adams is the editor-in-chief of groundcontrolmag.com