No Substitutions - Live in Osaka
(Favored Nations)

LARRY CARLTON / STEVE LUKATHER: No Substitutions - Live in Osaka (Favored Nations)Every once in a while, an album comes along that makes you sit up & take notice. This is one of those albums. No Substitutions grabs your attention from the moment you hit the play button, and doesn't let up until the disc is over, 52 minutes later. Beautiful and exhilarating all at the same time, this is the kind of collaboration that most guitar fans only dream of. Between the two of them, they've probably played on thousands of records. Regardless of the type of music you're into, I'd be willing to bet that you have at least a few albums that feature one or the other on guitar.

There are only five tracks on the CD, but there's not a bad one in the bunch. Starting with "The Pump" (originally on Jeff Beck's There and Back album), Larry and Luke limber up for the first couple minutes before Lukather (in the right channel) cuts loose on his first solo in the almost 15-minute tune. Carlton (in the left channel), who has been in a mostly acoustic mode lately, starts his solo off quietly, slowly building to a fiery climax. It's been a long time since I've heard him play like this & I'm thrilled to report that he hasn't lost his touch. The two guitarists have distinctly different styles, but they complement each other perfectly.

The dynamic duo's band--Gregg Bissonette on drums, Chris Kent on bass, and Rick Jackson on keyboards--is outstanding. One the first of Carlton's tunes, "Don't Give it Up," they get to stretch out a bit. Luke starts his solo with a tease from the Jeff Beck classic "Freeway Jam" then turns things over to Jackson for a romp on the keyboards. After a short solo from Carlton, Bissonette's serves up a stunning double bass assault, then the rest of the band joins in and brings the song to a close.

"(It Was) Only Yesterday" begins quietly with Carlton and Jackson by themselves. Carlton's lyrical fretwork on this extended take is some of the best of his career. Luke contributes a few quietly tasteful licks to the tune, but this is clearly a vehicle for Carlton's expertise on his instrument. Larry lays back after a few minutes to let Luke wail away as only he can. In the wrong hands, that could be a grave mistake on a song like this, but Lukather's restrained, yet inspired playing fits the song like a glove.

Up next is an interesting rendition of Miles Davis' "All Blues." Unless you're playing close attention, you may not even recognize this song. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just a different arrangement of the modal masterpiece. In the hands of Larry and Luke, it takes on an almost funky reggae feel. While Lukather's solo absolutely smokes, Carlton prefers to keep things a bit quieter for his turn in the spotlight. After the solos, the two return to the song's theme and then into a straight-ahead vamp, bringing the song to a close.

It's obviously that there is a 'mutual admiration' thing going on here. There's never any kind of ego clashing or anything like that. This is the perfect example of two extremely talented guitarists at the height of their craft, enjoying themselves to the fullest. On "Room 335," Luke starts things off with the song's trademark lick, and is then joined by the rest of the band. You can practically hear the jubilance pouring from your speakers as the two guitarists trade solos on the Carlton classic.

All said, this is one of the best albums released this year. The only bad thing is that it's too short. Both guitarists have ample time in the spotlight, and yet they never get into a guitar battle where one is trying to outplay the other. It's all about respect. The best thing of all is hearing Larry Carlton plugged in and playing electric again. That alone is worth the price of the CD. Whether you're a longtime fan, or just someone who enjoys great music, this is one disc that demands to be a part of your collection.

© 2001 Steve Marshall

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