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Real Illusions: Reflections

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Album Review

For his first studio album in five years, Steve Vai came up with a "rock fable" described as follows: "Real Illusions: Reflections is the first part of a multilayered menagerie of vignettes based on the amplified mental exaggerations of a truth-seeking madman who sees the world... Oh, never mind." Sound advice there. Each tune has a description of the "story line" and further track-by-track description is available on Vai's website, but the reality is that the concept doesn't get in the way of the music on this largely instrumental offering. "Building the Church" is everything you'd expect right out of the gate: crunching heavy riffs and wild elastic soloing, but Vai's always been more interested in solid melodies and great attention to sonic detail and tone than he is in empty showboating. As a result, his playing is restrained and lyrical just as often is it is flashy, with the composition itself taking precedence over the soloing. He's got a great ear for arrangements, and can build a track with a thousand guitar parts or turn around and sound just as full with a single guitar, bass, and drums (as on the beautiful "K'm-Pee-Du-Wee"). He's also got a couple surprises: like getting funky with scatted mouth percussion and horn charts on "Firewall" or the amusing and experimental "Yai Yai," with its ticking clock rhythm and crazy talkbox work. "Freak Show Excess" (title says it all) is a wild guitar fest with cool electric sitar, and then there's "Lotus Feet," a live track taken from concerts Vai did with the Metropole Orkester (one of Europe's finest orchestras) in Holland in 2004. As a vocalist, he's gotten way more confident, and while it's doubtful his singing will ever be the primary attraction, he does a fine job here. The playing and production is fantastic, but it seems that with the different styles and feels (along with excellent pacing) Vai really tried to craft a solid album as opposed to a series of dazzling tracks and succeeded nicely.

Customer Reviews

I love this man and his music.

Open your mind and listen to one of the greatest composers of our time.... oh and he knows his way around the fretboard as well!


The first time I listened to this CD, I sat on the couch with headphones on and my mouth hanging open through the whole thing… I could hardly breathe or blink my eyes. The flowery cover doesn't begin to prepare you for the huge, intense, and relentless brilliance inside. Of course, any time Steve and Billy Sheehan get together, the results will be incredible. They are "brothers of another mother," as the saying goes. And Vai's composition chops are massively on display here, perhaps more than ever before.

So is his insanity -- that of the best possible kind. This guy does not think like most people; he is exactly the kind of artist who stretches the boundaries of creativity to show the rest of us the way to the next level. And he's also silly, sometimes goofy, and positively sorcerous on the guitar. Kind of like Gandalf the Gray and Paganini rolled up into one. Inspirational to say the least.

After beginning with the technical wizardry of "Building the Church," he surprises you with "Dying for Your Love." Steve sings. And thank goodness he leaves the soaring theatrics to hands-on-strings -- because his voice is rich and smooth and very sexy. It goes very well with the way he moves on stage -- if you're ever privileged to see that. And the dude can even scat sing! In fact, that seems to be the way he puts melodies together in his head -- you can see his lips moving when he's playing a solo sometimes -- so "Firewall" is actually a cool glimpse into the truly musical mind (as well as a wicked danceable groove). As for "I'm Your Secrets," I'm not ashamed to say that it melts my heart. And this is a guy who jokes that he doesn't have female fans. Silly man.

The range of styles on this CD makes each song stand out. "Glorious" and "K'm Pee Du Wee" don't disappear into a wall of guitar instrumentals; they shine like the gems they deserve to be. "Freak Show Excess," "Midway Creatures," and "Under It All" come screaming out at you like Hubble Telescope images on acid. "Lotus Feet" and "Yai Yai" challenge your ideas about what guitar playing is all about. And the aforementioned vocal tracks are a wonderful surprise.

Taken as a whole, the journey from Track 1 to Track 11 will leave you breathless and dizzy. Be careful afterward and don't try to walk or operate heavy machinery for at least an hour.


Born: June 6, 1960 in Carle Place, NY

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Six-string wizard Steve Vai, along with his onetime teacher Joe Satriani, set the standard for rock guitar virtuosity in the '80s. Born on June 6, 1960, and raised in Carle Place, New York, Vai became interested in the guitar via such legendary artists as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Alice Cooper as a teenager and, upon starting high school, took lessons with an older player from the school, Joe Satriani. Playing in several local bands, Vai quickly picked up on the instrument, and by the age of...
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