Lukather, Steve (And Friends) - 2003 Santamental

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ARTIST: Lukather, Steve (And Friends)
ALBUM: Santamental
LABEL: BOP City Records, Ulftone
SERIAL: UTCD 080
YEAR: 2003

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: image
LINEUP: Steve Lukather - guitar * Guests:, Jeff Babko, John Pierce, Gregg Bissonette, Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen, Slash, Edgar Winter, Trevor Lukather, Simon Phillips, Mike Landau, Scott Hamilton, Lenny Castro, Sammy Davis Jr

TRACK LISTING: Joy To The World * 02 Greensleeves * 03 Jingle Bells (Davis) * 04 Carol Of The Bells * 05 Broken Heart For Christmas (Lukather/Lynch) * 06 Angels We Have Heard On High * 07 Winter Wonderland * 08 Look Out for Angels (Babko/Lukather) * 09 Silent Night * 10 The Christmas Song (Chesnuts Roasting)

Background

This is Steve Lukather's first solo release (not including his live album with Larry Carlton) since 1996's 'Luke'. He has chosen to mark his non-Toto return with a yuletide themed selection of tunes.

You might think Luke has lost his marbles completely, and listening to his big band swing arrangements of 'Winter Wonderland' and 'Jingle Bells' - the latter featuring Sammy Davis Jr on vocals, I'd be inclined to agree. But wait, theres more. Let's scratch below the surface.

The Songs

As 'Joy To The World' kicks things off, I'm instantly reminded of Jeff Beck (this often happens when I listen to Luke play), in particular his excellent jazz-rock material from the mid 70's. The drums thunder, courtesy of the unmistakable and ever cool Simon Phillips, the band rolls and Lukather sounds like he's in his element.

There are obvious jazz leanings here, but not so much to be upsetting. It's very laid back, as opposed to tuneless wankery (technical term) - and of course, the real Toto-heads among you dig that with Luke, so you'll be fine.

Apart from the main musical refrain at the beginning and end, it has to be said the whole thing bears very little resemblance to 'Joy To The World', sounding more like a relation to 'Dave's Gone Skiing' from Toto's 'Tambu' album (a shout out must go to Larry Carlton for excellent arranging on this and the rest of the album).

The jazz feel creeps over into 'Greensleeves', which at least to begin with is recognisable. It's only as the band stretch out, things start to get really interesting. The jazz-rock vibe here is superb, although still fairly laid back. One of the great focal points throughout the jazzier selections is definitely the faultless saxophone work courtesy of the often over-looked Edger Winter. Those of you who enjoyed Michael Landau's 'Tales From The Bulge' will be thrilled for sure.

Also in the more traditional Xmas vein, 'Silent Night' and 'The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting)' are more understated. The latter in particular is played beautifully. It may fall into the easy listening bracket, but definitely remains a standout moment for me. I'm reminded of the under-rated Jesse Harris, writer and guitarist on half of the lovely 'Come Away With Me' album by Norah Jones and formerly of The Ferdinandos and acoustic duo Once Blue.

With its heavy emphasis on blues rock, 'Broken Heart For Christmas' (a Lukather original) seems to rest uneasily with the other tracks on the album. It marks a shift from all things jazzy, but more importantly, features Luke's first vocal performance on the album. As you may imagine, the lyrics are the only thing which make this track festive, move over sleigh bells, let's rock. 'Angels We Have Heard On High' is absolutely breath-taking.

The guitar work has a fantastic Eric Johnson-esque tone, the arrangement is superb. It's Christmassy without being too festive - it could easily slot itself onto Steve's first solo album, 'Lukather'. The same goes for 'Look Out For The Angels' (another Lukather original) which comes across like a Toto-Michael Landau hybrid. It doesn't get any better than that.

In Summary

At first, I really felt unsure about Lukather's decision to record a Christmas album. You'll have to take my word for it that this is so much more than a Toto fans 'Collection Filler'.

If you admire Luke, you'll find this album damn near essential. If I was to say anything a little negative, however, I'll leave you with this: although musically superior, it's nowhere near as much fun as Gary Hoey's 'Ho-Ho-Hoey' collections. Merry Christmas Toto freaks.


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