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Yachting? Rocking? Toto has all that and more on their brand new record "Toto XIV"!

Frontiers Records
"Toto XIV" is the new album from the classic-rock band known for smooth music.
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ALBUM REVIEW: Toto – Toto XIV (Frontiers Records) 2015

It was 10 years ago that an online video series called Yacht Rock premiered, featuring “fictionalized” portrayals of soft-rocking musicians of the late 70’s and early 80’s including Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Steely Dan, Hall & Oates, The Eagles and Christopher “Sailing” Cross and other singers and groups who dug songs with a  nautical theme.

In episode five of Yacht Rock, my favorite, the Toto guys, along with McDonald, Loggins and Vincent Price! (James Adomian) have to intervene (“we must spook the smooth back into him, with the help of Koko’s ghost!”) to save Michael Jackson from being too influenced by hard rock and Eddie Van Halen. Yes, Toto fought for MJ’s right to make “smooth music.”

“We were given a job to write a smooth song for this album (Thriller),” says the guy playing Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro to an unconvinced Michael Jackson. “And Toto sees its assignments through.” Hilarious stuff!

And yes, while the members of Toto didn’t don yachting caps, they did cater their “smooth music” to millions of fans, some of them yuppies who enjoyed a sun-drenched sail around the bay from time to time. I was a kid at the height of their success and picked “Africa” on the Pizza Inn jukebox when the opportunity arose.

Really, who didn’t like Toto? Well, actually, back in ’82 and ’83, the critics saw the band of slick studio cats as, well, too corporate. And, they had an attitude. I heard they kicked Huey Lewis & The News off one of their tours for some weird reason (we noted that tour, with Marshall Crenshaw, here) – who kicks Huey Lewis off of a tour? And as an opening act?

Well, the coke and the groupies and the, umm, “expensive sailboats,” had a certain pull for Toto and their fellow yacht rockers, and over time the music suffered and music fans looked elsewhere.  

Years pass. Where is Toto? Well, they never went away entirely. Band members have come and gone. A few have passed on. But founders Steve Lukather (vocals, guitar), Steve Porcaro (vocals, keyboards), and David Paich (keyboards, vocals), have reunited, along with vocalist Joseph Williams and drummer Keith Carlock to make Toto XIV, one of the band’s best albums in many years.

Listening to it, I was reminded a bit of fellow yacht rocker Steely Dan man Donald Fagen, who hit it out of the park a few years ago with Sunken Condos. If you are hoping for a return to early 80’s yacht rock form, check out my fave – “Chinatown.” This one goes down smooth, my friend. It captures the feel and vibe of the San Francisco community, while offering an almost jazz-influenced sound that is reminiscent of their earlier material – “Down in Chinatown, with the dragon eyes that overlook the bay …” Oh, and guess who appears as a background vocalist on “Chinatown”? None other than Michael McDonald himself – the greatest backing vocalist of all time!

Produced by CJ Vanston (Celine Dion, Richard Marx), Toto XIV hits some topical themes pretty hard, crossing over into preachiness at times. But with the band members getting older, some might say wisdom comes with age. And right off the bat, on track one, written by Lukather, Paich and Williams, "Running Out of Time" offers up a muscular, guitar/bass/drums/keyboards assault that rather talking about "love" in connection with "time" (as on their mega hit "Hold the Line"), the band is trying to get the greedy, corporate raiders to change their ways, while there is still time.

"Holy War" pulls no punches. This is as overtly religio-political as Toto has been, as he tells the government and Fox News America to "save all the shit about spreading freedom / it sounds like a scam," a powerful tune that is followed by "21st Century Blues" where Lukather laments that "everything's upside down / it's all a big lie" and captures the uncertainty and angst far better than any singer or band I've heard half of Toto's age. Perhaps that's because the guys in Toto are old enough to realize how things used to be before they went completely insane and became the "new normal." 

Continuing on the topical and political, Paich sings the poignant "Orphan" with real conviction. He notes that he became familiar with K'naan, a Somali singer, while performing "Africa" at a United Nations function honoring the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Paich was inspired by K'naan for being joyful and positive in his music despite being an orphan and coming from a wartorn nation. But with "Orphan," Toto rocks out while still harmonizing (a rarity in rock these days, sadly) and offers a slice of positivity, singing "You're never alone in the world," reminding all of us that we are connected. Lukather's guitar and bass break is also worth noting, as Carlock capably handles drumming duties alongside percussion session man Lenny Castro.

And written by Paich and Lukather for the beloved Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro (who died in 1992), called "Unknown Soldier (Song for Jeffrey)." Jeff Porcaro, as noted in the thorough liner notes, was a major Civil War buff. The song, which has a BIG sound (producer Vanston did fantastic work on this LP), is truly epic and reminiscent of 70's era prog-rock story-songs that take on historical stories (think Kansas or Emerson, Lake & Palmer or Yes). I find my reviewing of "Unknown Soldier (Song for Jeffrey)" particularly poignant, since today marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War and the end of slavery. I should note that original Toto bassist David Hungate appears on several songs on this LP. Hungate was replaced in 1982 by the third musical Porcaro brother, Mike Porcaro, who died recently of Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS).

Anyway, "Unknown Soldier" is another real highlight on Toto XIV

"Stand down unknown soldier / They fought and died at Gettysburg and Shiloh / They're still fighting in the town / Where I was born / Nothing seems to change in this world / That I can see." Indeed. Still fighting amongst ourselves. We seem as divided now as we did then.

Paich takes lead vocal on the lush ballad "All The Tears That Shine," while Williams handles the slinky "Fortune" where he sings about taking a chance on love, song fodder more familiar to old Toto fans, I imagine, particularly with that rock guitar. 

Closing out the album is "Great Expectations." Lukather flexes those guitars of his like a champ, while holding back to let the melodies and changes work themselves into what is a fine song to end the album with.

The deluxe edition of Toto XIV features a bonus DVD.

For more information, go to And also note that Toto and Yes are touring together this summer. We noted a couple of Texas dates. 

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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