New York Minute By John Wetton

November 5, 2016


John Wetton, formally of Asia and King Crimson, performed at the Iridium Theatre in New York City about two years ago, October 14, 2013. Backed by the Les Paul Trio consisting of bassist Nikki Parrott, pianist Rodney Holmes, and guitarist Lou Pollo, he presented a short 37 minute set consisting of seven originals and two covers.

In some ways it was an odd choice of songs and an odd selection for a backing band. Many of the songs are stripped to basics with just Wetten’s acoustic guitar/voice and Holmes’ piano.

The covers are basically songs that Wetton’ enjoys. Steely Dan’s Do It Again,” the Beach Boys “God Only Knows, and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” are straightforward presentations without a lot of energy. Nothing bad but not the quality one would expect from a musician of Wetten’s stature.

“All Along The Watchtower has a little more pep. His own “Heat Of The Moment” is a slow acoustic version far removed from the original. It is an experiment that works. His “Battle Lines” is superior to the studio version as it is a filled in song.

It all comes down to a concert that was performed from the heart. Unfortunately it is a recording that is not always kind to the ear.

Open Your Eyes (New Vinyl Edition) by Yes

July 20, 2012

Ah, the smell of fresh vinyl. If you came of age during the CD era you probably never had the experience or joy of the odor of a freshly opened vinyl album. It was memorable and should be experienced by all music lovers at least once.

Vinyl has been making a comeback lately with annual sales now in the millions of copies. Open Your Eyes, by Yes, has just been reissued as a double vinyl LP. It returns on 180 gram heavy-weight vinyl, which has enhanced the listening experience. The sound is crystal clear and if a person possesses a good stereo system, record player, and most importantly a quality needle, then the sound of a record can be the equal of a CD.

Open Your Eyes was the 17th studio album by Yes. The band at the time consisted of singer Jon Anderson, guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, drummer Alan White, and keyboardist Billy Sherwood. Steve Porcaro and Igor Khoroshev also provided keyboards on several of the tracks.

The album is sometimes underrated in the vast Yes catalogue. It contained simpler and shorter songs for the most part. It was also not as cohesive as many of their past releases as the music travelled in a number of directions, which in some ways gave it some charm.

“New York State Of Mind” and the title track were guitar-based and Steve Howe’s solo on the first found him at his creative best. “Universal Garden” was typical Yes as the synthesizer foundation found the band in familiar territory. Harmonies have always been an important part of the Yes approach and on “No Way We Can Lose” they shine. “Wonderlove” was the oddest song on the album due to its quirky structure, but was a prime example of the band experimenting with their sound. Sometimes simple is best and “From the Balcony” is just Howe’s acoustic guitar and Jon Anderson’s vocal.

There are no surprises with this reissue except for the format. The music is upbeat and interesting, but readily available on CD. It all comes down to whether a person wants to collect or experience the music on vinyl.

The music is spread over four sides so don’t forget to turn the records over every now and then.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – Open Your Eyes [180 Gram Vinyl Edition] on Blogcritics.

Magnification by Yes

June 13, 2011

Yes released its 19th studio album on December 4, 2004. Magnificationwas different from the 18 albums that had preceded it. Gone were guitarist Billy Sherwood and keyboardist Igor Khoroshev. Remaining members Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Alan White, and Steve Howe decided not to officially replace them, so Yes reverted to a four-person band for the first time in its existence.

Conductor Larry Groupe was invited to lead an orchestra, which substituted for the keyboards. It proved to be an inspired idea. While the concept may not have always worked, it made the album unique in relation to its other releases and was a welcomed change of pace for a band approaching the 40-year mark.

In many ways, the music feels like the soundtrack to a film. The classical/progressive rock fusion is similar to what The Moody Blues produced during its classic period, although it was a little lighter. Steve Howe plays more acoustic than electric guitar and the rhythm section of drummer Alan White and bassist Chris Squire fuse with the orchestra on most of the tracks. The result moves the group outside of its traditional progressive rock style.

The title song was the album’s first track and set the tone for what was to follow. At over seven minutes, the orchestra provides the connectors between the sections of the song, as classical orchestration meets progressive rock.

While not every track works, at least it is always interesting. “Spirit” Of Survival” is an up-tempo piece that reminds me of a James Bond theme. “Can You Imagine” contains Chris Squire’s first lead vocal for the band. “Soft As A Dove” uses a flute to compliment Steve Howe’s acoustic guitar work. “We Agree” is a peaceful song with more acoustic work by Howe, but tends to be just a little too close to easy listening for a classic Yes track. “Dreamtime” begins with some Spanish guitar before moving in a progressive rock direction.

Magnification is a nice stop in the career of Yes. It’s not a perfect album by any stretch of the imagination, but at least the group took some chances, which is a brave move for an established band.

Yes is currently in transition again. Jon Andersonleft during 2008 and David Benoit was hired as the new vocalist. Its new album, Fly From Home, is due next month, but that’s a story for another day.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – Magnification on Blogcritics.

The Ladder by Yes

June 11, 2011

After the critical and commercial debacle of their 1997 album, Open Your Eyes, Yes regrouped. Vocalist Jon Anderson, drummer Alan White, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe were back, as was Billy Sherwood, who was retained as a second guitarist but no longer as the keyboardist. The group became a six-man band when keyboardist Igor Khoroshev was officially added to the group. The band also brought in outside producer Bruce Fairbairn, who unfortunately died just before the recording process was completed.

The Ladder returned Yes to their progressive rock roots and while it may not have been of the same caliber as their classic work, it was at least welcomed and ultimately very listenable. When taken on its own and not compared to their past work, it emerges as a fine modern Yes album.

There are two extended tracks, a few ballads, and overall the music has a nice hard edge to it. When you add in the usual level of competent musicianship and the tight production, you have an album that has withstood the test of time well.

“Homeworld (The Ladder)” is one of two tracks that clocks in at over nine minutes. It was the album’s first track and its classic progressive rock style sets the tone for what follows. “New Language” was the other longer song and used a jam from their previous album recording sessions to form the foundation for the song. The length of both songs gives the various band members room for solos.

“It Will Be A Good Day (the River)” and “Face To Face” may veer a little toward traditional rock, but both are catchy and melodic. Plus, they fit into the concept of the album well. “The Messenger” was a fine tribute to Bob Marley. “Nine Voices (Longwalker)” has some nice acoustic guitar work.

The Ladder may not explore any new ground, but at over three decades into their career at this point, I’ll accept the old. There may be better places to start when exploring the Yes catalogue, but at least there is nothing offensive, and in places there is some good music.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – The Ladder on Blogcritics.

Open Your Eyes by Yes

June 6, 2011

Every time I have listened to Open Your Eyes, and I have to admit, the times have been few and far in between down through the years, I can’t help but think Yes should have taken more time and put a little more thought and effort into its creation.

Rick Wakeman had left the band again due to a disagreement concerning their Keys To Ascension 2 album. The band was planning a tour and decided to quickly record a new album to promote while they were on the road.

Chris Squire and Billy Sherwood had been working on a project together. Jon Anderson became interested and the music became a full-fledged Yes project. The result was Open Your Eyes. Other than being a weak album, it also had the misfortune of being released shortly after the second Keys To Ascension album, which only served to focus attention on it being one of the poorer Yes studio releases.

It was more pop than progressive rock and the emphasis, for the most part, was focused on the harmonies rather than the instrumental creativity that was always at the core of the best of Yes’ work. The songs also had an eclectic feel as they never settled into one style. Add that to a lack of creative depth, and you have the makings of a disappointing album.

There are basically two songs that are interesting. “Universal Garden” features some creative guitar interplay between Steve Howe and new member Billy Sherwood. It is one of very few Yes tracks to feature two guitars rather than the keyboard/guitar match-up. The album’s best track is its simplest. “From The Balcony” is basically Steve Howe’s acoustic guitar and Jon Anderson vocal. It proved that when in doubt, keep it simple.

Unfortunately the above two songs do not an album make. It was tracks such as the plodding “New State Of Mind” and the half-hearted “Man In The Moon” that were representative of the rest of the album.

Open Your Eyes is not up to the usual Yes standards, as the music does not just reach out and grab you. Groups like Yes, who have been around for decades, will issue a weak album now and then. In the long musical journey of Yes, this is one album best avoided as there are many better stops.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – Open Your Eyes on Blogcritics.

Keys To Ascension 2 by Yes

June 2, 2011

Vocalist Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and drummer Alan White had an inspiration during 1996.They reformed as the classic Yes line-up, recorded live tracks from a three-night stand in San Luis Obispo, California, added a few new studio songs, and released Keys To Ascension. It proved to be a commercial and critical success.

If at first you succeed, stay on the gravy train. They returned a year later with more live tracks from the San Luis Obispo concerts, and more new studio songs, and released another album appropriately called Keys To Ascension 2 (a two-disc set). Unfortunately, Rick Wakemen wanted to release the studio tracks as a stand-alone album with a live bonus disc but was outvoted. He promptly left the band for the fourth time, if you are keeping count.

The quality is very close to its predecessor, but I tend to like the studio tracks on disc two a little better than the live tracks on disc one. All in all, it comes out about the same and is one of the better modern Yes albums.

The live “I’ve Seen All The Good People,” “And You And I,” and the just under 20-minute long “Close To The Edge” are like having an old friend come to visit. They have all appeared on numerous releases, and while nothing really new is added here, you appreciate their presence nevertheless.

The shorter pieces fare a little better, as they are changed a bit. “Time And A Word” is built around some masterful piano work from Rick Wakemen. “Turn Of The Century” is a Steve Howe guitar clinic, as he brings his classical guitar expertise to the forefront.

The studio tracks are built upon the epic and intense 18-minute long “Mind Drive.” It is as good as any extended track Yes has ever produced. It has distinct parts that explore the overall melody before returning to the basic theme. Eighteen minutes can be a long time for one song, but this is one of those occasions where Yes makes the length work in its favor. The other outstanding studio track was “Foot Prints.” Chris Squire carries the early part of the song alone and then settles in for some of the better bass lines of his career.

Keys To Ascension 2 was another album that reassured the Yes fan base that everything was fine. It remains a nice live update for some of their better known songs and a good introduction to some new studio material.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – Keys To Ascension 2 [2-CD Set] on Blogcritics.

Keys To Ascension by Yes

May 26, 2011

The old Yes juggernaut pulled into the Freemont Theatre in San Luis Obispo, California, for three nights in March of 1996. It was the first time that their classic line-up of vocalist Jon Anderson, guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, drummer Alan White, and keyboardist Rick Wakeman had played exclusively together in 18 years.

The result was Keys To Ascension, which gathered live tracks and two new studio songs onto a two-CD release. It was a moderate commercial success, by Yes standards, in the United States and United Kingdom.

Keys To Ascensionis an essential modern-day Yes release, however, as it returned them to their progressive rock roots while bringing their sound into the present. The five band members quickly settled in to a groove and drew on 35 years of experience to provide some of the better live music of their careers.

The album’s seven live songs span the band’s career and include the famous and not so famous, the common and the uncommon. They returned to the long, extended, improvisational approach of their past, as five tracks lasted in excess of 10 minutes, and two were longer than 18 minutes.

The 10-minute version of “Siberian Khatru” is classic progressive rock and rivals the version found on Yessongs. Wakeman is always a treat when he keeps his extreme improvisational inclinations under control, and here he meshes well with Howe’s guitar playing. “The Revealing Science Of God” made its recorded live debut in all its 20-minute glory. Solos by all the principles combine and meander to make this a memorable performance. “Onward” was basically a throw-away track on Tormato, yet here it moves from a simple electronic song to basically an unplugged performance with Howe at the forefront. The fact that it is the album’s shortest track (at less than six minutes) enhances its appeal as its structure and control is a nice counterpoint to the rest of the music.

Two of the band’s most popular live songs make an appearance as well. I never get tired of “Roundabout” and while the version here may add nothing new, it still is a treat to hear Anderson’s vocal, which has not changed in decades, plus Squire’s famous bass lines. “Starship Trooper” always relies on the guitar/keyboard interaction, and here Howe and Wakeman modernize this eternal concert song.

The album ends with two new studio tracks, which added up to 30 minutes of music. “Be The One” is the shorter piece at less than 10 minutes and has a memorable melody and chorus. The 20 minute “That, That Is” has some nice acoustic work by Steve Howe but it tends to drag a little in parts.

Keys To Ascension is a sometimes forgotten Yes album. It remains an excellent look at five friends who proved that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Article first published as Music Review: Yes – Keys To Ascension on Blogcritics.