At first listen, without any background, the new Steve Vai album, “Vai/Gash” sounds like a fresh slab of late ‘80s, early ‘90s rock and roll. Heavy guitars, gritty vocals, straight-ahead lyrics about women and motorcycles, and an overall good time.
A throwback, of sorts, from an artist that has never shown any real affinity for “genre” or “boundaries” in his career. In fact, the first single, “In The Wind” and the second single, “Busted”, both sound like outtakes from Vai’s work on the 1989 David Lee Roth album “Skyscraper”, and the album track “Danger Zone” reminds of Vai’s work with Alcatraz in the mid-80’s.
So it should come as no surprise that the record – eight songs of in-your-face hard rock – was actually recorded in 1991, over two weeks, and was purposefully intended to be just what it sounds like, a back-to-basics rock and roll record, almost a reaction to the over the top histrionics of his most-recent (at the time) gig with Whitesnake (it’s an interesting sidebar that David Coverdale also went back-to-basics at that time, recording his only album with Jimmy Page in 1991).
Recorded with friend and motorcycle aficionado Johnny “Gash” Sombrotto on vocals, the eight songs were to be the start of a larger project, but Vai became side-tracked with what became the “Sex & Religion” record with Devin Townsend. The material was shelved, though Vai had always intended for more songs to be added to the album (the released album is barely 30 minutes in length). Unfortunately, Vai received a call in 1998 that Sombrotto had died tragically in a motorcycle accident. Vai never forgot the material, allegedly listening to it annually as a reminder, and has only chosen now to release the album.
The material is like most of Vai’s work: well-played and well-crafted, but never without an appropriate level of fun. Unlike much of Vai’s work, though, there isn’t really any “virtuoso” playing on the record, at least as we’ve come to expect from Vai, but none of it is pedestrian or boring, and several of the solos, such as on “Busted”, unfold with a fire and a heat reminiscent of Vai’s best playing. The album maintains an upbeat level of energy throughout, with only the last song, “Flowers of Fire”, hinting at any balladry.
To call Sombrotto’s vocals gritty or meat-and-potato is to imply a lack of character, but his voice perfectly wraps around Vai’s melodies and are both expressive and immersive. Accompanying himself on the pre-chorus and chorus of “In The Wind”, Gash alternates between a mid-register smooth voice and a grittier, upper register voice that compliment perfectly, and one can almost imagine heading down the highway at 70 miles an hour, “in the wind”. The third single, “She Saved My Life Tonight” is the song that perhaps best showcases both Sombrotto’s singing and Vai’s lyrical playing. Sitting as the center piece (albeit not the seventh song) of the album, it not only stands on it’s own as a beautiful and evocative song, it also hints at the potential for this collaboration.
For an artist like Vai, with catalogue song titles like “For The Love Of God” and “Fire Garden Suite”, and who famously fasted for ten days in order to perform a particular song, the simplicity of the approach, and song titles like “Woman Fever” and “Danger Zone” might not seem up to par; but the songs are strong, melodic and provide a surprising emotional resonance.
The one common thread between all the songs is the clear ability of Vai and Sombretto to communicate the message at hand. This is not pretentious music, pretending to be what it is not. This is quality rock and roll, authentic, and intended to evoke the open road and the carefree lifestyle that goes along with it. If Vai intended, with this delayed release, to convey the sense of time, of loss that sometimes comes along with the “life” that he writes about so often, then this is a resounding success. If not, we can all still rock out like it’s 1985!
Pre-Order/Stream Here: https://lnk.to/VaiGash
In The Wind
She Saved My Life Tonight
Flowers Of Life