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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Steve Lukather

and Friends - SantaMental

Review by Gary Hill

While this album technically is probably not progressive rock, it is (mostly) fusion. I’ve always felt the boundaries between those two styles were quite elusive, so I’m including the disc here. The truth is that most prog-heads will probably enjoy this disc. One other note here – this was actually released last year, but my promo didn’t come until the December issue was up. So, I have saved it all this time to feature it here. It was worth the wait. While you won’t get the traditional treatments of Christmas classics with this one, Lukather has brought a new approach and flavor to the material we all know and love. There are really few weak points here, and even then they are only so weak. If you want something different for your holiday musical palate, this comes highly recommended. In addition to the guests listed separately in each track review, Jeff Babco and Gregg Bissonette are on every cut but the closer, which is all Lukather. John Pierce is also on nearly every track, although it might be a little hard to figure that out - as his name seems to change a bit on every credit (or at least the section in quotes does). Lenny Castro is another regular appearing on roughly half of the songs here.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Joy To The World
Van Halen fans waiting patiently for the next solo from their man Eddie Van Halen should definitely pick up this disc as he’s the featured performer here, throwing around some trademark screaming solos over this Christmas classic. Beyond that aspect of the instrumental track this is a high-energy fusion take on the traditional track. The recognizable melodies are all here, but delivered with a guitar dominated jazz style that will have you grooving. Another elf who shows up to help with the festivities here is Simon Phillips.
Greensleeves
A mellower, fusion approach serves as the backdrop for this instrumental track. It has a great groove, but once again retains the main sounds and spirit of the original (always a personal favorite). Speaking of personal favorites, amongst Lukather’s “friends” to show up on this track we get the inimitable Edgar Winter. This cut sounds a bit like The Doors at times, but a lot more jazz oriented. This also has some killer horn work. It is quite dynamic and definitely packed with excitement and musical treasures. It’s one of my favorites on the disc.
Jingle Bells
I have to come clean upfront on this one. I’m not sure I approve of people taking a sampled vocal line from a deceased person and using it on a track - especially in a prominent way. That’s what Lukather did here with a Sammy Davis, Jr. vocal. So, I come into this with a bit of a misgiving about the track right from the get go. On the other hand, from a strictly musical point of view, this one is cool. It’s an old school jazz groove that’s a lot of fun. I just can’t rid myself of the musical grave robbing aspect of the piece. It’s probably just me. They do pack the track with a number of voluntary guests, though. In this case we get to hear from Walt Fowler, George Shelby, Scott Hamilton, Bob Babko, Chie Castro and Ben Osgood in addition to the more usual suspects.
Carol of the Bells
This time around the featured friend is Steve Vai. The song itself is another that’s always been a favorite of mine, and they deliver it at first in a hard-edged, metallic jam, but then drop it to a cool jazz-fusion approach over which they deliver the familiar melody lines. This instrumental is a killer and another of the standouts on a disc that has no shortage of highpoints.
Broken Heart For Christmas
Here we get a rocking bluesy jam. It strikes me as something Stevie Ray Vaughn might have done. It’s a nice change of pace, but seems to pale in comparison to the rest of the killer material surrounding it. Playing guitar with Lukather on this one is none other than Slash – possibly the best rock and roll guitarist of the last couple decades of the 1900’s.
Angels We Have Heard On High
This time out it’s a Pat Methenyish mellow jazz groove that’s quite satisfying. The lead guitar carries the melodies from the original song, otherwise this instrumental would be unrecognizable. Even with that it’s still hard to place at times. This number isn’t one of the standouts, but it’s cool nonetheless.
Winter Wonderland
Mr. Edgar Winter is back again for this piece. They come in with an old school jazz approach, and this styling stays throughout this scorching groove oriented piece. I like this one a lot. It has some killer horn work and lots of folks contributing their voices to the mix. George Shelby and Matt Fowler both return on this number.
Look Out For Angels
Lukather throws out a more rock (but mellow rock) approach that would probably qualify as jazzy prog here. The featured friend this time out is Mike Landau. This one gets rather bluesy on the verses and is another winner.
Silent Night
The slow jazz groove that makes this one up is a killer. I’d have to say that while this is definitely not the way you’d expect the track to be delivered this instrumental is one of my favorite numbers on show here. It works really well with the lead guitar carrying the familiar melodies.
The Christmas Song/Chestnuts Roasting
An open enveloped filtered guitar sound makes up the introduction to this killer track. It has that jazzy texture to it. While mellow it makes for a great conclusion to the disc.
 
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