Best known for his otherworldly guitar style, channelling the gods of the air and elements, Steve Vai can also do straight-ahead hard rock. Coming off the back of his brief tenure with Whitesnake, he had a number of tracks crying out for a vocalist. When motorbike buddy Johnny ‘Gash’ Sombrotto mentioned that he sang, it was a perfect match. The raw-edged rock and roll tone of his voice was exactly what Vai was looking for.
Steve Vai – Gash (Favored Nations / Mascot Label Group)
Release Date: 27 January 2023 (Vinyl – 24 February 2023)
Words: Paul Monkhouse
The album was recorded, and the intent was to push it, but events conspired against them, and the tracks never saw the light of day until now, some three decades later.
Tragically, Sombretto was killed in an accident in 1998, so these tracks are the only memorial to his musical talent, and, given the quality here, the world was robbed of a future frontman who could certainly compete with the best out there.
There’s a raw energy here from both singer and guitarist that takes classic ’80s hard rock and Heavy Metal but gives it a dirty edge that speaks of pure adrenaline. Capturing the feel of riding a fast bike down the blacktop, there’s a pedal to the Metal ethos here that sparkles with quality and class whilst never being over-polished.
An album full of thrilling sounds and honesty, Gash captures those heady days when rock bands dominated MTV and filled stadiums. Listening to it now, there’s more than a chance that, had it been released at the time, it would have stayed in the Billboard Hot 100 rock charts for several months and come out of every radio station from the West Coast to the East.
It was roundly acknowledged that Vai could dazzle and drop jaws, but his playing here holds back on the flash and goes more for stripped-back power, never dominating his partner, the duo’s creativity on very equal footing. That’s not to say that the fretwork isn’t a thing of wonder because it truly is, and in fact, the mere sounds that Vai tears from his guitar drive through to the bone. Along with the soulful element of Sombrotto’s voice, the material is melody-packed and still somehow sounds fresh all these years later.
Kicking things off with the prime ’90s hard rocker In The Wind, it’s great to hear the pair really letting loose and having fun, the huge hook and grit setting the tone for what’s to come. A fast-paced and swaggering Busted adds a real swing and brings to mind Van Halen at their most party-ready.
She Saved My Life is in a similar vein, the vocal harmonies adding splashes of delicious colour. Woman Fever dips its toes into a more bluesy territory. The lovechild of Led Zeppelin and Poison, it blends epic feel with irresistible Sunset Boulevard warmth.
There’s a slightly more sleazy vibe to Danger Zone, its glam-hued sound something that could soundtrack a night at the Whisky or the Rainbow and New Sensation is another out-and-out slice of good times. If the heat of the city is too much, Let’s Jam is the perfect accompaniment to a road trip, the high-speed rocker purpose-tooled for blasting down the highway, and the closing Flowers Of Fire is a pure lighters-aloft power ballad that eschews the usual overwrought tropes and instead goes for the heart.
With so much to discover and enjoy here, Gash is destined to be an album that bears repeated plays, its gleaming hooks accompanied by some truly fascinating layers that will reward time and again.
With Sombrotto’s rich, characterful delivery and Vai’s six-string mastery a match made in heaven, we can only guess what could have happened next, but it’s pretty sure it would have been equally captivating.
A very worthy and heartfelt tribute to his fallen friend, this release stands as something both men could be truly proud of. Massively enjoyable and a gem no longer hidden but there for all to see.