Traditional holiday music be damned, Steve Lukather & Friends' Favored Nations release, SantaMental shatters the staid perceptions of conventional holiday fare by playfully bending it on its ear, enjoining it with a delirious and demented sense of fun. Lukather is no stranger to the Favored Nations label. In 2001, his CD, No Substitutions-Live In Osaka, a collaboration with guitar giant, Larry Carlton, garnered a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album.
Produced by Elliot Scheiner and Steve Lukather, the record's ten cuts craftily evoke the holiday spirit emboldened by tons o' guitar shredding and instrumental virtuosity. Adding to the record's sense of immediacy and organic flavor, SantaMental was cut in a whirlwind six days. "We had no time to get it done so we just jumped in on the deep end. We cut all the tracks for the whole record in a day and half," Lukather says. "No click tracks, no pro-tools, no bullshit, just two-inch analog tape. If it didn't fit on 24-track it didn't go on the record. I basically recorded everything live except for vocals. The remaining few days were spent doing overdubs, vocals, and recording the special guests. Everybody came to the party for me, I owe a lot of favors on this one."
According to Lukather, the idea behind doing a Xmas record came from colleagues, Elliot Scheiner and Al Schmitt. "They pitched me the idea of doing this Christmas album. I would not have come up with that myself (laughs). I took it as a challenge to make corny Christmas songs hip, to re-voice them in some way to make them sound weird (laughs). My partner on the project was keyboardist, Jeff Babko. He had brilliant ideas in terms of arrangements. I'd take a melody and make it sound like Weather Report rather than Captain Kangaroo and he had a lot to do with inspiring me."
As for the meaning of the CD title, SantaMental, Lukather reveals, ?My wife actually came up with the title. She has a way with words. I thought it was a brilliant title, we all cracked up when we heard it. So putting me in a straight jacket on the cover only makes sense. I'm a mental case (laughs). I'm a complete loony tune, ask anyone who knows me. The title relates to the music in the sense that we took really simple major scale songs and we kind of twisted them all up, groove wise and harmonically and just had fun with the concept. It's hard to record Christmas music in June but we did it (laughs). Gregg Bissonette, the drummer on the record, brought down all of his Christmas lights and a little plastic Santa Claus so we could get a vibe in the studio and it worked."
Joining Lukather on this spirited seasonal endeavor is a host of star-studded talent including Eddie Van Halen who provides mind-blowing guitar ferocity on "Joy to the World," Slash, Steve Vai, and sax legend Edgar Winter. "In choosing my guests who are all my very dear friends, I couldn't afford paying them what they were worth so I'll be taking their garbage out for the rest of my life (laughs). If I haven't paid them back already I owe all of them."
Lukather and Eddie Van Halen's blazing guitar duel on "Joy to the World" is a highlight. "When I wrote the arrangement with Jeff, I wrote it specifically with Eddie Van Halen in mind, coming up with a 'Hot for Teacher' groove," Lukather recalls. "At that point, Eddie had been retired for a few years and hadn't been playing that much. So he came in and heard it and goes, 'What are you trying to do, kill me? I haven't played in a while' and we all laughed. I chucked everybody out of the studio, Eddie sat down, did a few takes and it was done. His playing is raw and on fire. He doesn't play on anybody's records so it was a real honor for me and it lends a lot of credibility to the project. Just as everybody else guesting, people like Steve Vai, Slash, and Michael Landau. Getting all the 'A' guys doesn't happen very often. I'm deeply honored that they came to help a brother out. Like when Slash came in to play on 'Broken Heart for Christmas.' He was there for a half an hour. I set him up, he did two takes and I just let him blow. I thought that track would be perfect for the rootsier vibe of Slash and he nailed it."
Reviews"After listening to this album few times, I have already come to the conclusion that this simply has to be one of the best christmas records released ever." - RockReviews.org