STEVE VAI

"The Story of Light" (Favored Nations; 2012)

Reviewed by Jeff Rogers

It's been a while since Steve Vai put out a solo album, 2005 to be exact, with "Real Illusions: Reflections." That's not to say he hasn't been busy in the interim, so this offering will help satisfy many of his fans wanting some new music from the man himself. Twelve tracks that have Vai ripping it up on the guitar and weaving his trademark layers of music with guitar, bass and vocals, along with spoken word, with odd intros and basically what makes Vai the composer he has become.

Guitar players like Steve Vai are so versatile that even though you know he could go back to his days with Whitesnake or even David Lee Roth, he doesn't. He's matured. That other music was great in its time, but Vai looks to the future of music, while still holding to his roots of solid guitar playing, and really lets loose on many of the tracks. "Gravity Storm" is one such track. It will bring back to memory the Vai that attracted most of us to his incredible guitar prowess.

Vai also weaves in the standard "odd" track that leaves you reaching for the >> button. At least he makes them interesting because Vai isn't just goofing around on the guitar, he's creating music. Most guitar players who want to sound like Vai have either given up and created their own sound, or have been adopted by his label, Favored Nations. "The Story of Light" picks up toward the end and most of Vai's signature guitar riffs can be heard throughout this disc. It's good to have Vai back in rotation again.

The band: Steve Vai - guitar (all tracks) and vocals (tracks 8, 11); Dave Weiner – guitar; Philip Bynoe – bass; Jeremy Colson – drums; Deborah Henson-Conant – harp; Beverly McClellan - vocals (track 3); Aimee Mann - vocals (track 11).

For more information, check out http://www.vai.com.

"Fire Garden" (Epic; 1996)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Steve Vai, a guitar virtuoso if there ever was one, is a consummate musician. Vai's 1996 offering "Fire Garden" has two phases; the first phase is mostly instrumental while the second phase has primarily vocal oriented.

The instrumentals are sheer works of art - it is not difficult to think of Vai as a painter. While I've never truly appreciated Vai's broad approach, Vai does impress with an ever expanding palette of noise, melody, and crafty songs. The classic Vai sound is heard on the disc opener "There's A Fire In The House," but the rest of the instrumental section features some different departures. For example, "Blowfish" has sounds that seem to be dog barks sampled, distorted, and played through a keyboard while "Bangkok" features the sounds of buzzing insects. Hey, I'm noticing a theme here - the animal kingdom!

One could easily indict Vai with his prone to excess, but you've got to love the dense layering of instruments. Vai is a master craftsman when it comes to arranging and song structures; Vai takes his time developing melodies and songs and it is evident in his work how preciously he treats his own material. 

Usually when a guitar hero sings it ends with disastrous results. Is that the case with Steve Vai? Yes, and no. Basically Vai's vocals fit the tracks here without sounding too out of place. It has been said that ego can be an occupational hazard, yet Vai shows enough restraint to keep his vocals in line with his material. Although his vocal skills are competent, Vai's voice is no match for his guitar wizardry. Overall, Vai's vocal approach is bluesier in nature than what you might expect. 

I am giving the instrumental half of the disc three and half chainsaws and I'm giving the vocal half a tidy two and half chainsaws for a nice even three chainsaws out of four. There's really no other way to look at it.

Steve Vai handled all production, arrangements, and engineering. Steve Vai handled all the music himself, too. Slacker. At various times Vai received help on the drums from Chris Frazier (Doro), Greg Bissonette (Joe Satriani, David Lee Roth Band), Deen Castronovo (Ozzy Osbourne, Tony MacAlpine), Mike Mangini (Extreme, Mullmuzzler), and Robin DiMaggio (Joe's Band). Additional bass work is provided by John Avila (Oingo Boingo). Will Riley (Sprung Monkey) contributes some keyboards.  Longtime Vai collaborator Devin Townsend (probably one of the few people in the world who can match the audacity of Vai in any manner, shape, or form) of Strapping Young Lad sings on a few tracks as well. 

For more information visit http://www.vai.com which is Steve Vai's official "Fire Garden."

"Passion and Warfare" (Relativity; 1990)

Reviewed by Jeff Rogers

I remember the day this album came out. I was working at Wal-Mart stocking the music and I picked this CD up. It looked bizarre with all the colors and with this long-haired guitar player balancing between what looked like heaven and hell. Because I got a discount I bought the album and the rest is history for me ... well, mostly for Steve Vai. This is the CD that put Steve Vai on the cover of every guitar magazine; I think he even made onto Acoustic Guitar. Everybody wanted Vai to grace their cover. To make a long story short, I quit Wal-Mart and worked for a music company and that led me to enjoy music so much that I wanted to write about it, and so here we are.

If you have this CD then you know that it was so well-crafted that the guitar “gods” of yesterday really had to step up their game because Vai isn’t just a guitar player, he is a composer. Coming off of a stint with David Lee Roth and fulfilling all guitar responsibilities in Whitesnake, Vai’s fingers were limber enough to release his own coveted work, entitled “Passion And Warfare,” in 1990.

Because the metal scene was losing some ground it was briefly revived with Vai releasing a guitar record, but the catch was that it was an all instrumental record. Joe Satriani had done it with “Surfing With The Alien” in 1987 and now it was Vai’s turn. It’s not that Vai wasn’t good in a band; he is more of a virtuoso player, a prodigy who performs because of the love for music. If you haven’t ever examined the cover of this CD look closely at his guitar tuning knobs, my count is seven. That should tell you a guitar player who adds an extra string to a guitar apparently has some brilliance.

Considering that this opus was based on dreams that Vai had as a teenager the music was all grown up. He does use a lot of kid quips such as “The Audience Is Listening” and kids speaking intros though. The thing that made Vai so interesting is that he was willing to try something new; he took Zappa and Satriani and make his own mark on instrumental guitar playing.

The songs are just as important as the compositions that he creates. “Ballerina 12/24” is a split rhythm song; try it next time on your headphones. “For The Love Of God” is his signature song; every time that I have seen him live he plays this song and puts new fire into each performance. 

To me this was the CD that laid the foundation for all the other guitar players to emerge and it still rises to the top when it’s compared. If you haven’t listened to this release in a while you owe it to yourself to remember the time and the place it all started for you.

For more information, check out http://www.vai.com

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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Copyright © 2012 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08 Jan 2016 11:33:10 -0500.