Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Steve Lukather: Transition - Welcome To The Second Half

Transition is Steve Lukather's eighth solo record, and it is a great look at where he is today - the album is full of melodic pop, tons of great guitar, some fusion-esque interludes, but more than anything it's his singing that sells these songs - he's written some lyrics that are straight from the heart, and the record is, as he told me, 'Very organic.' If this is the opening salvo to the second half of his life, the 'transition' into the next chapter, it's a helluva successful first step.

The first half was quite the adventure. Steve Lukather has lived the American Dream writ large across the cosmos. He's played countless sessions on countless albums, topped the charts and sold out arenas for decades with his world class outfit Toto, gotten to play with George, Paul, and Ringo - whose last names I needn't mention, and has more than a few solo records under his belt.

Working side by side with producer, and co-writer C. J. Vanston, Lukather can always be counted on to deliver a pristine package when it comes to sounds, but here we get more than mere mastery of the form - we get an album full of songs in which he has invested heart and soul. He's joined by some of the best players in the world, choosing the right guys (or gals) for each tune - names like Leland Sklaar, Tal Wilkenfield, Nathan East, Gregg Bissonette, Fee Waybill, Phil Collen, and others show up to help with the painting of this latest masterwork. But, make no mistake - this is Lukather's moment to shine, and shine he does.

Judgement Day is nearly eight minutes long, and it never for a second feels like a second too long. Gorgeous sophisticated pop in the vein of the glory days of Steely Dan, but this rocks, too. The cleanly plucked chords that swell so spectacularly under the verses as Lukather displays some very nice vocal chops soon give way to a brief bit of sultry slide guitar that announces the big rock chorus - yeah, this has all the right moves, and we've just begun. Vanston throws in a synth interlude that somehow combines Toto with Brian Wilson, and then we're treated with the first brilliant guitar solo of many. It's not chop heavy, but don't think that all those nights on the road with Satch and Vai didn't rub off just a bit. There's another tasty bunch of string bending as the ride out builds, and some more six string brilliance on the tag. A fantastic beginning.

The Tubes were one of America's greatest rock acts of the '70s and '80s, and when they reached out for some assistance from the Toto bunch, they finally got the chart success they so deserved. Tube founder and visionary Fee Waybill (who's been way too absent from the scene of late) lends his wit and wisdom to the cause with some lyrical assistance on Creep Motel, and it makes me smile. This is the blues turned upside down and inside out, not unlike the sadly unsung Was (Not Was)'s twisted take on Motown soul (if you're not hip, go back in time and fix this - you won't be sorry). The ghost of early Steely Dan can be heard lurking around in there, as well.

Lukather reaches deep into his soul and pulls out Once Again, his reflective look at the end of his marriage. This is classic Southern California song craft, a piano ballad that echoes the melodic memories of Jackson Browne, Eagles, and a bit of Petty in places. When the rhythm section of Renee Jones, Toss Panos, and Lenny Castro arrive they move things along on a magic carpet of timekeeping and melody. I'd like this song even more if it didn't so remind me how hard it is to miss someone you love. This is a really great vocal performance.

Right The Wrong is perfect pop - starting with Trev Lukather's rubber band mutola guitar intro, and Chili Pepper Chad Smith's snap to attention snare work, this one can't go wrong. Lukather is a master of big chorus pop, and this might be as majestic a chorus as we get in 2013. Infectious in the extreme. Richard Page supplies some great close harmonies, and this is a hit. A brief musical interlude that reminds us that Lukather did at one time work with Sir Paul prefaces another all too brief guitar solo, then it's big arena all the way out. Goddamned glorious, I tell you what. This is one of those songs that's worth whatever the record costs, so just buy it.

Transition is wickedly cool, mostly instrumental tune that travels over a lot of territory, and it's only because you've got the world's best players behind the wheel that the wheels never come off. Tal Wilkenfield's bass line is subsonic beauty, and Steve Weingart's keyboards are amazing. Beckian Floydisms anyone?

Lukather can make any song sound good - so good that sometimes it's easy to forget just how much talent goes into making something sound so easy. Last Man Standing is one of those tunes. It comes across as another cool pop nugget of gold, but then there's an instrumental bridge that makes its way across the desert in search of the stars on a cloudless night. A nice, subtle solo makes its point, then Luke and company ride the chorus into the sunset. There is indeed, something to be said for being the last man standing - after years and years of excess and apologies, redemption is a new dawn. If you hear a little Joe Walsh in this, you're right - it is a bit of a head nodding tribute, especially those chunky chords played on Joe Bonamassa's old Les Paul.

The travelogue continues as things keep getting brighter - not just metaphorically, but also melodically. This is a declaration of a need for solidarity among those who still remember common sense.  Do I Stand Alone? We hope not.

Rest Of The World is a non-original number, but it fits with what Lukather has written very well. The guitars are a little unlike what we're used to hearing from him, sounding like they've been steeped in Stax soul - still there's some familiar melodic single string fills, that remind us who's playing - to be honest, the guy can play anything, and this is just more proof. Nathan East is easily identifiable with his five string rumbling, and his melodic sensibility in place.

Closing out the album, Lukather chooses a melody written by another denizen of Hollywood, one Charlie Chaplin. Smile - though your heart is aching. Lukather has done a lot of that, and this selection is to the memory of his mother who died as Luke was going through the tribulations of getting sober, divorce, the sickness and death of friends, and the struggle of the trip from the dark into the light. A Transition, all right, and if Steve Lukather continues on the path he's on, the second half is going to be even more glorious than the first. - great samples from the album

My two part interview with Steve: - Part I - Part II

You can buy the album here:

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