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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Western Vacation

Steve Vai Presents Western Vacation

Review by Gary Hill

So you’ve never heard of Western Vacation? Don’t feel bad, most people haven’t – yet. This album was recorded in the early 1980’s, though. It features a lot of well-known musicians. In fact, Steve Vai plays on the album, under the name “Reckless Fable.” In addition, Frank Zappa alums Tommy Mars and Bob Harris are both present in the band. The music here is definitely along the lines of Zappa. I’d put forth that it’s more fusion and more pure progressive rock. I hear hints of the types of sounds Max Webster did, too. However you slice it, though, it’s a great disc.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 4 at
Track by Track Review
Western Vacation

Campground sounds open this up with some conversation joining. It feels like something from “City Slickers.” There’s a killer funky bass line on this and the cut feels like a soaring kind of proggy jam. There’s some soaring keyboards on this and a lot of it reminds me of Max Webster. It works out into this cool real progressive rock movement mid-track, though. We’re taken out into a killer guitar solo section further down the road and this feels very much like something from Frank Zappa. Saxophone lends a jazzy element at one point in the piece. There’s a cool scat vocal section later and then it really turns Zappa-like from there.

Nocturnal Emissions
A fusion sort of melodic approach, based in mellower, rather ballad-like territories, leads this out. This instrumental never moves far from that, and it’s short.
Fast Notes People
Another cut that seems to combine Frank Zappa with Max Webster, this is quite tasty, although a bit less fiery than the opener. The rhythmic structure is the most unique thing about this piece and it’s definitely got some fusion in the mix. It works out to a soaring movement later, though. 
Send Us More Light
There’s a bit more of a pure jazz element to this, but otherwise the main musical mélange hasn’t altered that much. This is more stripped down than the earlier pieces, though. There’s a killer keyboard solo later. 
This playful number is very much like a Frank Zappa song. It has a funny, yet challenging, texture. The instrumental breaks are more traditional progressive rock in nature. 
The Velvet Line
Mixing jazz with more straightforward rock, this really sounds a lot like something from Max Webster. We’re taken through a few changes later in a killer instrumental movement that showcases various instruments at various points. 
Keyboards and scat vocals make up this cut. It’s moody and strange, but also quite tasty. The links to Zappa are definitely apparent here. 
Borrowed Time
Here’s another that’s pretty directly tied to Frank Zappa sounds. It’s quite funky and quite tasty. It doesn’t travel very far.
Burning Flame
A smoking rock song, this one is more hard-edged in some ways than the rest of the disc. Still, it’s got a definite space rock and fusion element to it. The Zappa influences are still here, but less pronounced.
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