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Vai, Steve


Real Illusions: Reflections

Year: 2005
Format: CD
Label: EPIC / Red Ink
Genre: [Guitar-oriented Rock/Instrumental Rock/Experimental/Funk]
Overall Rating: 9.0
Music: 9.0
Production: 9.0

About six years have passed since Vai released his previous proper studio album 'The Ultra Zone'. New original material was published down the road though, in the form of a double CD live release 'Alive in an Ultra World' (released back in 2001). However, a new studio release never saw the the light of day (until now). So, to say the least, fans of Steve Vai were already anxiously waiting for a new Vai record to take form. Originally Vai's new solo album was supposed to be a two disc long play (some kind of an opera) with various guest perfomances, but a lot has changed since then due to label's request of releasing the play as one CD release, Steve didn't want to settle for compromises but instead he decided to divide his play (Real Illusions) into parts. Long story short, the full play is still in the works, and Real Illusions: Reflections (the first part of the rock opera) is finally ready.

Steve Vai's latest studio release 'Real Illusions: Reflections' offers almost an hour of guitar extravaganza in its finest form. There's no doubt about Vai's wizardry over the fretboard, which he mastered already in the Flex-able and Passion & Warfare days. As one may expect from Vai, his new album is rather diverse and experimental. However, the experimental edge hasn't been taken to extremes but there's a nice balance between experimental and "more traditional" material (so this isn't a new "Flex-able"). In addition to instrumental pieces, Steve Vai also sings on some of his songs (a tradition, which he started with Fire Garden). Nonetheless, since the days of Fire Garden and The Ultra Zone, Vai's voice and singing has improved quite a bit.

There's only one first listen with albums, and with Steve Vai's 'Real Illusions: Reflections' that first listen may give a wrong impression of the album. My first listen gave me an impression that there are only few good songs on this album. However, already on my second listen I paid more attention to details, and the beauty behind different songs revealed to me. So be sure to get carried away by the music if you decide to give this album a spin, otherwise you may get a misconceived impression of the album.

Real Illusions: Reflections is a concept album, which tells a tale of Captain Drake Mason, Eve and Pamposh. The album starts with the energetic instrumental 'Building the Church' with its down-tuned rhythm guitars and melodic, yet heavily processed lead guitars. Vai also introduces a computer-like tapping lick on this song. So already from the beginning of the album it comes clear that Vai's new sound is a bit more processed than before, and on this album he uses his guitar synth a bit more than before.

The album opener is followed by a bit dark and deep 'Dying for Your Love' with its grainy drum track and the emotional guitar leads and chorus sections. There's definitely something weirdly appealing about this song... Third track on this album is titled as Glorious and it brings the tempo up by a notch another energetic instrumental song with a heavily processed lead sound. There are some really great leads on this song.

The fourth song is probably the most traditional Steve Vai composition, since it's instrumental and in Lydian (which is Vai's favourite mode) and it has very stripped down tone... with the exception of small amount of delay on the leads and phaser effect on the very last verse. The fifth song is funky 'Firewall', which shares some similarity to 'Little Alligator' from Fire Garden (the intro riff). This song contains some big band horn sections and has a rather interesting, catchy intro vocal section "Boom Shika-Boom Shika ba-ka-tu-ka...".

The sixth song on this album is called 'Freak Show Excess', which is another "typical" Vai piece. It contains a lot of different elements and it's definitely a freak show taken to extremes, but in addition it has a melodic side. It's followed by the famous seventh song, which is always a ballad-like instrumental. This time 'round the song is called 'Lotus Feet' and it's a live performance with Metropole Orkest. Definitely one of the highlights of this album, but overall all the songs on this album are good in different ways...

Yai Yai is perhaps the most experimental song on this album, as it's basically an experimentation with diatonic harmonizer, which produces a "Yai Yai sound" whenever a note is played. Not really a song, but still considered as a song since it contains a simple melody. From my least favourite song on this album, we proceed to 'Midway Creatures', which in turn represents the other end of experimentation. Midway Creatures is quite an experimental instrumental piece that has a lot of processed sounds, but still contains nice melodic phrasing and some really successful leads.

The second last song on this album is called "I'm Your Secrets", and it reminds me quite a bit of 'Rescue Me Or Bury Me' (from Sex & Religion). It's an acoustic song without any electric guitar solos, instead there's choral sitar and Vai's singing on it. The last song on Real Illusions: Reflections is titled as 'Under It All', and it's rather massive sounding song that contains a plethora of different elements.

Steve Vai took care of production and mixing, which ensured that the sounds reflect what was intended with his songs. Although some of the sounds are quite processed, there's still a nice sense of atmosphere in the recordings. Mastering was handled by Bernie Grundman, who handled the job well. With the exception of few minor details, this album has been produced very well.

Real Illusions: Reflections is a refreshing guitar-oriented rock album that eases the anticipation of Vai's forthcoming releases (the other parts of his rock opera) just a bit. Keep in mind that for some it might take some time to digest this album. Real Illusions is definitely not an easy listening album.

For prelistening visit www.stevevaimusic.com

Visit Artist's Website

- MAGE (March 19th, 2005)


Sheehan, Billy: Bass
Colson, Jeremy: Drums
Vai, Steve: Everything else except

Additional Percussion on "K'm-Pee-Du-Wee" by
Colson, Jeremy and Bissonette, Gregg

Trumpets on "Firewall" by
Hey, Jerry and Grant, Gary
Saxes on "Firewall" by
Higgins, Dan and Williams, Larry
Trombones on "Firewall" by
Reichenbach, Bill and Loper, Charlie
Percussion on "Firewall" by
Colson, Jeremy and Bissonette, Gregg
Ellis, Stacy: Background Vocals on "Firewall"

Additional Percussion on "Freak Show Excess" by
Colson, Jeremy and Bissonette, Gregg

Orchestration on "Lotus Feet" by
Kole, David and the Metropole Orkest
Beller, Brian: Bass on "Lotus Feet"
Opperman, Chris: Piano on "Lotus Feet"

Additional Percussion on "I'm Your Secrets" by
Colson, Jeremy and Bissonette, Gregg

Vai, Pia: Harp (the big kind with strings)
on "Under It All"
Speaking on "Under It All" by
Vai, Fire
Fishman, Laurel
Birman, Ruby
Birman, Len
Mallard, Jeff
Mesker, Michael
Nordegg, Thomas
Producer: Vai, Steve
Mixing by: Vai, Steve
Mastering by: Grundman, Bernie
Vai, Steve - Real Illusions: Reflections  CD  Cover Image
01. Building the Church
02. Dying for Your Love
03. Glorious
04. K'm-Pee-Du-Wee
05. Firewall
06. Freak Show Excess
07. Lotus Feet
08. Yai Yai
09. Midway Creatures
10. I'm Your Secrets
11. Under It All

Length: 55:15
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