December 4, 2005

CD Review: Steve Lukather & Friends - SantaMental

Originally released back in 2003, Steve Lukather's Christmas album has been reissued on Steve Vai's Favored Nations label. This former Toto guitarist has brought together some top shelf talent to appear on this collection of Christmas tunes.

I am not familiar with Steve Lukather's work, I've never listened to Toto nor any of his solo albums. That being the case, I went into this with a rather clean slate. In retrospect, I am not sure that was the best idea. Thinking about the guest stars that Lukather had gathered together had me anticipating a wild Christmas album, something for those who have tired of the holiday standards playing in stores and malls. Think of a Christmas album featuring appearances from Eddie Van Halen, Slash, and Steve Vai. My hopes rose a little further upon seeing the cover a crazy eyed Lukather in a straight jacket clutching a guitar and further tied up in a string of lights. Oh yeah, he has a Santa hat on as well.

After listening to the disk, I like it, but it is nothing like what I was expecting. I was hoping for a wild guitar ride through the Christmas mainstays, something to really have a rocking holiday with. What I ended up with is a more of a straight up Christmas album, with the occasional foray into rockland.

Not for nothing, the guest spots were very good. Eddie makes his presence known right away, contributing some fun solos to "Joy to the World". A little later on we get Steve Vai soloing in "Carol of the Bells". Right after that is probably the best guest spot on the disk, in a rather mediocre song, go figure. Slash adds his touch to the Lukather original, "Broken Heart for Christmas". It is rather lackluster in execution, but Slash's sound is great,nobody sounds quite like him.

In a clever turn, Lukather performs a duet on "Jingle Bells" with a sampled Sammy Davis Jr. It plays out like a tribute to the late singer, and it sounds very good. Also, in another turn we have another guest adding a brass flavor to the proceedings, sax player Edgar Winter.

As the disk wears on, the disk slips out of rock mode and into some smooth jazz. While I was missing the rock, and to a bigger extent the rocking expectations I had, the smooth sounds were quite good.

Bottomline. This is not a bad disk, but it isn't what I had hoped. It falls too far to the middle of mediocrity. It succeeds best as a Christmas album you put on to have some background music when the family comes visiting.

Mildly Recommended.


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