Friday, 8 February 2013

Steve Lukather's 'Transition' - Album Review

While I have been a big fan of Toto for a few years now, it was only recently that I started to looked beyond the confines of the legendary AOR band and look at what music the various members have made on their own. Founding guitarist Steve Lukather has a wealth of solo material out there, but at this point I have only heard his 1989 debut album Lukather. 2013's Transition is his new album, and it from most of the same team that brought us 2010's All's Well That Ends Well (which I have not heard). Working with keyboardist and producer CJ Vanston, Lukather has created an introspective album that seems more reserved than his work with Toto and what of his solo work I have heard. Obviously the key elements of his distinctive song writing are present. The nine songs are packed full of melody, emotion and passion; mixing an almost swampy blues sound with his more traditional rock approach and progressive-jazz experimentalism. Many of the business' finest session players grace this album, and the musicianship is top-notch throughout.

Things get started with slow-burning Judgement Day. From the outset you realise how great Lukather's voice sounds on this album. I have always thought he had a decent enough voice, but that it was nothing special - but here he has really upped his game vocally. The verses are pretty melancholic before a really catchy chorus takes over. This has potential to be a lingering ear-worm and will be a great set opener for his live shows. There is a really delicious instrumental section in the middle which features some great keyboard work from Vanston and a trademark guitar solo from Lukather. The bass playing on this track is also great, played here by Leland Sklar. Def Leppard's Phil Collen also contributes some backing vocals to the song. Up next is Creep Motel which is one of the album's highlights. This is where the bluesy influences shine through the greatest, with Lukather adding great lead licks over a shuffling drum beat from Gregg Bissonette. The chorus is another stonker, full of great hooks to sink your teeth into. The first solo moves away from the blues though and is more in Lukather's traditional rock style, which keeps the song interesting and shows just what a great guitarist he is. However, the end solo is dripping with the blues feeling showing us his versatility as a player. The next highlight is Right the Wrong. It opens with a gorgeous keyboard riff that reminds me of HIM's Killing Loneliness before another delicate suffling beat, this time provided by Red Hot Chili Peppers' Chad Smith, kicks in and Lukather's voice spills over the keyboard backing. It is a great ballad that is built on layers of swirling keyboards and excellent harmony vocals to lift the choruses above the song. I feel this song best shows off Vanston's ability as a keyboardist and songwriter as the diverse selection of sounds here; from synth leads, textured backing parts and beautiful piano melodies we can see what a great musician this guy is. Of course, there is another killer guitar solo!

The title track has some of greatest instrumental sections on the album, and in fact this song is almost purely instrumental - save from a small section of vocals towards the end. There is a distinct funk feel to the track, helped along by a snaking bassline from Tal Wilkenfeld, and the pulsing dueling keyboards of Vanston and Steve Weingart. For long sections of the piece, Lukather takes a more supporting role - playing a rocking riff and some gentle acoustic stumming - behind the mad sound of the keyboard and bass work. He takes the spotlight later on the track for another masterclass in rock guitar soloing which is the calm after the funk-filled storm that has just passed. The next highlight is Rest of the World. Another really bluesy number, this ballad which helps to bring the album to a close seems to sum up all the themes of the album together in one final dance. The guitar work here is exemplary and he really uses the guitar to bring the best out of his vocals. It has a very laid back feel to it, with piano sometimes cutting through the mix and some great backing vocals bringing a new dimension to the sound. The album then closes with the short instrumental piece Smile which is a version of a Charlie Chaplin. This gives us one more chance to hear the great guitar work of Lukather and helps to round the album off nicely. Overall, this is a solid album and an enjoyable listen. It is very different from his work with Toto but you can still see much of his signature song writing style coming through in places. This is a great album to relax to, full of different moods and delicate textures.

The album was released on 21st January 2013 via Mascot Records. Below is the official EPK that was used to promote the album.

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