Steve Lukather – Transition (2013)

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Steve Lukather has, over the last few years, made a considered effort to embrace the underrated command of popular genres that made his band Toto such an ear-wormy pleasure. Transition adds a personal undertow.

Scratch the surface, and I’m not sure the guitarist has issued a solo album that feels more personal, more introspective, more real.

That said, Transition — due January 22, 2013 from the Mascot Label Group — hits all of the musical marks. From the AOR crunch of “Judgement Day,” to classic heart-filling balladry of “Once Again,” to the wide-open spaces of his album-closing instrumental “Smile,” Lukather continues reclaiming his portion of Toto’s legacy, even as he consistently reminds you of what made him a first-call sessions player over the same time frame.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Toto’s Steve Lukather joined us to talk about working on his powerful new solo release with Lenny Castro, Leland Sklar, Chad Smith and Tal Wilkenfeld.]

“Judgement Day,” after a fun prog-influenced keyboard interlude, features a solo as anthematic — wind swept, tensile and then soaring — as any he’s ever unleashed. Elsewhere, Lukather explores a bluesy grit on tracks like “Creep Motel” and “Rest of the World.” The title track unfolds with a fleet aggression that finds a home somewhere between math rock and fusion jazz. “Right the Wrong,” an approachable mixture of pop, R&B and rock styles, might be the best song that Toto hasn’t yet issued.

But you can’t get away from Lukather’s angry admonitions, his devastating confessions, his brutal honesty on Transition.

The album’s language is that of someone with difficult questions about thorny issues, someone coming to terms and, maybe just as importantly, someone moving on: He laments broken promises of hope and change on “Right the Wrong.” In a moment of quiet resignation on “Once Again,” he adds: “My broken heart, it bleeds; I really must concede that it’s over now.” But he gathers himself once more within moments like “Judgement Day,” with its memorable song-turning phrase: “The table’s turned.”

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One of the more deeply resonant tracks is “Last Man Standing,” which feels like a direct reference to the seasons of loss that Toto has experienced with the departure of two Porcaro brothers. There, Lukather wonders: “Is the end worth waiting for?,” then exclaims, before launching into a solo filled with a melancholy both searching and scalding: “Just show me the truth.” The unabashedly patriotic “Do I Stand Alone” might be the yin to that song’s ruminative yang, as Lukather leaps into a determined riff — and an even more determined theme.

And that sense of perseverance, finally, feels like the broader message of Transition, something embedded in its very title. Having established himself apart from the legendary band he co-founded, and all of the many sideman gigs that helped bolster his career, Lukather seems ready finally to write with the same revelatory honesty that has always marked his guitar playing.

The results are a triumph — over adversity, over expectations, over time. Steve Lukather may have just made his best record ever.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.