Steve Vai fans are a dedicated lot, eager to hear the entirety of the guitarist's work (in that sense, he is very similar to his mentor, Frank Zappa, whose fans would buy collections of just his guitar solos). Given his fan base, Vai had the opportunity to release an album like The Elusive Light and Sound, Vol. 1 -- the first installment of an archival series, capturing all the music he's written and recorded for film, television, and theater. A brilliant idea, actually, since an album like this disproves the antiquated notion that Vai's music is all technique and skill, without much regard for tone, texture, or the big picture. By isolating his soundtrack work -- music that he made to accentuate a particular passage in a film -- he reveals himself as both the master guitarist that he is, and his capacity to use that skill to create and enhance moods. And that's even more impressive when you realize that this is all early work, ranging from 1986's Crossroads to 1994's David Spade comedy PCU. After two opening fanfares that aren't in the movies (both featuring vocals by Vai), an elegiac cover of the Kinks' "Celluloid Heroes" sets the mood, followed by "Love Blood," a song Vai wrote with the intention of it being part of an adaptation of Interview With the Vampire, or any film starring the Vampire Lestat, but later abandoned once the project wound up with David Geffen (it might not sound too vampirey, but it's better than anything Jonathan Davis cooked up for the Queen of the Damned soundtrack). The compilation proceeds to go through every bit of music he's written for the featured films (aside from the previously mentioned pair, he also played for Dudes, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, and Encino Man). This includes brief, brief cues (some as short as 20 seconds); full pieces; and, best of all, the complete, legendary "Head Cuttin' Duel" from Crossroads, which features Vai and Ry Cooder in a shredding contest. Since this is deliberately an archival piece, it doesn't make for the easiest listening, but as an archival piece, it's first-rate. It's hard to imagine any serious Vai fan, or modern guitar aficianado, not wanting to hear this. No doubt, the next installment is eagerly awaited.
The Elusive Light and Sound, Vol. 1 Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine