CD Review of Ever Changing Times by Steve Lukather
Recommended if you like
Toto, Glenn Hughes, Fee Waybill
Label
Ride
Steve Lukather:
Ever Changing Times

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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his will come as a surprise to many, but Steve Lukather’s day gig – playing guitar and singing the occasional lead vocal for ‘80s hitmakers Toto – has continued more or less uninterrupted since the band’s Grammy-winning heyday. They may not have had an American hit since 1988, but they’ve released five albums of original material since the early ‘90s, and have toured the world many times over. Oh, and Lukather? He’s put out a handful of solo albums, including a Christmas record. In other words, don’t call Ever Changing Times a comeback – he’s been here for years.

The album’s domestic release actually arrives alongside Lukather’s recent decree that Toto is no more – a development that should free up plenty of time for him to hit the road as a solo act and promote his wares. Lucky thing, then, that Ever Changing Times is his most full-bodied, radio-ready solo release in years – maybe ever. Insofar as anything by an artist on the south side of his 50s stands a snowball’s chance of selling more than a handful of copies in the current industry climate, this set of songs should rank right up near the top of the list.

He’s long been one of rock’s most underrated guitarists, capable of moving easily from the melodic end of the spectrum to Shreddersville and all points in between. As a songwriter and vocalist, however, he’s always been most appealing when he reins in his harder-edged tendencies and surrounds his vocals with as much texture – and/or big-budget production – as possible. His 1989 solo debut, Lukather, was stuffed with the kind of keyboard-coated ear candy you’d expect from an artist of the era, but in the early ‘90s, Lukather cranked up the amps and tried to recast himself as a good old-fashioned shouter – his Candyman release was a much louder, and much less entertaining, change in direction. Subsequent releases – including 1998’s Luke and the aforementioned Christmas album – have had their moments, but they’ve lacked the craft and attention to detail that fans of his work with Toto had come to expect.

Ever Changing Times is a return to basics – although “basics,” in this case, means a healthy amount of overdubs and a generous helping of mid-tempo grooves. For fans of melodic West Coast rock – and if you’re even thinking about buying this album, you almost have to be a fan of the stuff – hearing this album will be like a cool drink of water after a couple of decades in the desert. He may not stay here for long, but for now, Lukather is back in his wheelhouse.

This is no doubt largely due to the influence of Randy Goodrum, Lukather’s longtime songwriting partner and this album’s executive producer. For fans of Lukather’s louder stuff, Goodrum’s name is probably an unwelcome sight – this is the man who co-wrote big ‘80s ballads like “I’ll Be Over You” – but he brokered the record deal that prompted Ever Changing Times, which was predicated on Lukather delivering, in his own words, “a melodic rock record with vocals.” Goodrum co-wrote seven of the album’s 11 tracks, and doubtless kept Lukather from doing any Hendrix covers or screaming at the top of his lungs. They should keep up this partnership – it works.

All that being said, you shouldn’t go into this album expecting an overproduced disc full of glossy ballads; it’s got plenty of production, but the performances all feel warm and organic, and even if Lukather never really rocks out, there’s plenty of room here for the tricky time changes and long, dizzy-fingered solos any fan could hope for. Cuts like “Tell Me What You Want from Me” and the Steely Dan pastiche “Stab in the Back” strut and swagger, and even the ballads are free of the schmaltz Lukather was guilty of falling back on in the ‘80s.

It’s probably a little late in the day for a wide audience to find out about it, but Ever Changing Times offers proof positive that a “heritage artist” can be comfortable with his past without being beholden to it, and can incorporate new ingredients into his sound without sounding desperate. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take him another 19 years to put together an equally compelling follow-up.

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