Friday, 16 July 2021

Does the color of the sun turn crimson white? Jon Anderson’s Sunlight

What was that all about? We’re still putting the pieces together, but it appears late in June, a Jon Anderson solo album called Sunlight appeared on streaming and digital sites worldwide, including Spotify, Amazon (at least US, UK and Japan), Qobuz and YouTube. No press release, no fanfare, it just appeared. On 15 July, Spotify recommended the album to Yes fan Keith Hoisington. Excited, he alerted the Yes fan community to this surprise. News spread fast, to, through Facebook groups and I got something up on my news site pronto.

As of one day later, the album is not to be found anywhere. So what do we know?

Sunlight was not a regular solo album. It’s only about 32 minutes long with its 14 tracks around 2 minutes each. Only the title track exceeds 3 minutes. These are relatively simple pieces, but Anderson’s voice rings true and there are some nice melodies, good playing. It’s not out of place among Anderson’s latter day solo catalogue, but it’s not as proggy or complex in its playing as, say, 1000 Hands: Chapter One or Invention of Knowledge.

But what is it? Why did it appear, and disappear? Jon Anderson posted to Facebook, "'SUNLIGHT' is not a solo's music I made with a close friend for the Universal music library ...production music created for movies, advertising and other avenues...not a solo album..." This was apparent at release. It was the Universal Production Music website that had most details, and additional alternate versions of the tracks.

What is production music? Sometimes, a musician may be commissioned to do music for a film or TV, as Trevor Rabin does a lot. But with Sunlight and similar, music is written without any particular visuals in mind, but is then made available to be easily used in a production, with licensing arrangements all worked out. So you can search on the Universal Production Music website for different styles and moods of music. You’ve some film of a wooded glade: pop on the site and search under “Nature”.

Steve Howe did a couple of albums like this in the eighties and nineties: Guitar Player and Guitar Plus. Back then, these were very difficult to get hold of outside the industry. But, today, it appears Universal just dump copies of these sorts of release on Spotify, Amazon etc. as well as making them available as production music – because, I guess, why not? It’s a bit of extra income. That appears to have been the problem: the extra visibility wasn’t wanted.

But where does the music come from? Who is Anderson’s "close friend"? That would appear to be Jonathan Elias. Anderson first worked with Elias when he guested on Elias’s Requiem for the Americas: Songs from the Lost World, released 1989. Anderson then brought in Elias to produce the second ABWH album, which mutated into Union. Union was not a happy experience, with Anderson and Elias bringing in multiple session musicians to replace the actual band members, including Jimmy Haun on guitar. Members like Rick Wakeman, as well as many fans, were unhappy (you can read Elias’s side of the story here). However, Anderson and Elias have stayed friends and continued to work together. Elias has a company doing music for adverts, TV and film, including often employing Haun. Haun is an old friend of Billy Sherwood and his brother Michael, and currently a member of Arc of Life.

In recent years, Elias helped with Anderson’s 2011 digital release "Open". Around then, the two began a more substantial collaboration. Late 2012 and into 2013 saw sessions with Elias, Anderson, Haun and M Sherwood (who sadly passed away in 2019). The material was described as a mix of Anderson/Elias compositions and Anderson/Haun compositions. In January 2014, M Sherwood described what they had been working on: "here are some working titles to chew on.... The Given Love, The Remembering Gate, Children Yet To Come, Songs of Solomon and some nine minute orchestral thing which I think was called The Given Love part 2...They were all sounding so good. Also some Anderson collabs with Mr. Haun were taking place". However, the whole project had stalled by then.

In a February 2021 interview with SOAL Night Live, Haun picked up the story: "It’s so fucking great. The music is so good." He described how Anderson said the material got "a little too proggy for him [...] He was getting into something different at that point [...] He loved this band Battles [...] He was like, "Can we do something like Battles?" [...] Jon didn’t want to go down that road [progressive rock] again." (Anderson went on to guest on Battles’ 2019 Juice B Crypts album.) Haun continued, "I have these recordings and [...] God, I would love to, one day, be able to show people this stuff [...] Jon was very much a part of everything, and he was loving it, loving it, loving it. And then all of a sudden, it was like he changed his mind. And he wanted to do reggae and stuff. [...] But the music is there. So, I dunno, maybe one day he’ll be like "Let’s just do it.""

A couple of Anderson/Elias collaborations did pop up on YouTube: "Born Again" in 2018 (a version of a 2013 piece by Elias without Anderson) and "The Given Love" in 2020, a 9:46 track with a title matching one from M Sherwood.

Is there any connection between those older sessions and Sunlight? (I am presuming Sunlight was recorded recently, but maybe it wasn't?) The material on Sunlight doesn’t obviously match, but Elias and Haun are involved. We don’t know much about the material on Sunlight, but we have writing credits and the album has 4 pieces co-written with Elias and 3 co-written with Haun. Three of the other people involve (Zach Golden, David Ashok Ramani, Mike Fraumeni) all have past connections to Elias. This looks like an Elias project.

So why we can’t listen to it? My guess is Anderson and/or his people had it pulled. Either he didn’t realise that it would be available for general sale, or he didn’t realise it would attract attention, but it appears someone panicked and was concerned that this would damage Anderson’s reputation or distract from his actual next solo album, whatever that might be (1000 Hands: Chapter Two? Opus?).

While withdrawing the album from general release does solve that problem, we now have a situation where hardcore fans know something exists but they can’t get it, unless they were lucky enough to see the news about Sunlight quickly and buy a download. Of course, digital copies are now being sent round fan circles, as the album acquires a mythical status. It’s a shame a way wasn’t found to leave the album available, but to manage expectations around it.

Thursday, 24 June 2021

What was the best Yes-related album of 1991?

Another historical poll, this time of the best Yes-related album of 1991. Union had been released, the 8-piece band went on tour, but what else were the band members doing that year... and was their music outside the band any good? 78 of you voted and the results were:

1. Steve Howe: Turbulence (w/ Bruford): 37%, 29 votes

2. Queen: Innuendo (w/ Howe): 22%, 17 votes

3. Jon & Vangelis: Page of Life (w/ Anderson): 14%, 11 votes

4. Bill Bruford's Earthworks: All Heaven Broke Loose: 12%, 9 votes

5. Seal: Seal (w/ Horn, Rabin): 4%, 3 votes

6= Rick Wakeman: 2000 A.D. Into the Future: 3%, 2 votes

6= Asia: Live Mockba 09-X1-90 (w/ Downes): 3%, 2 votes

7= Rick Wakeman: The Classical Connection: 1%, 1 vote

7= The Moody Blues: Keys of the Kingdom (w/ Moraz): 1%, 1 vote

7= Marc Almond: Tenement Symphony (w/ Horn): 1%, 1 vote

There were 2 votes for 'other', but not specified as to what. There were no votes for Terry Reid's The Driver (w/ Horn, White) or for several Rick Wakeman albums (African Bach, Soft Sword, Aspirant Sunshadows, Aspirant Sunset, The Private Collection). Wakeman released a lot of albums that year...

A clear win, then, for Turbulence. Howe had recorded the album some years before, but it had got indefinitely delayed, which is why Howe brought some of the ideas in the album to ABWH for what eventually became Union. Then, unexpectedly, Turbulence re-appeared, putting Howe in the unexpected position of having two albums with common compositions in the same year.

Howe also nabs second place for his guest appearance on the title track of Queen's Innuendo, their last release while Freddie Mercury was alive. The album was huge in most of the world (if less so in the US), going Platinum in the UK, Germany, France, Spain etc. Indeed, I think the track "Innuendo" is the most widely heard thing Howe has ever played on. It was later included on Queen's Greatest Hits II, an album that has gone 13 times Platinum in the UK, 8 times Platinum in Australia, 5 times Platinum in Spain, Diamond in France, and so on.

Monday, 21 June 2021

Mythbusting around the new Yes album

 There's been a flurry of reports about a new Yes album. It appears this has been completed and we're looking at a release later this year. However, very little about it has been confirmed. In this vacuum of announcements, various rumours and misunderstandings have spread. I wanted to tackle some of these in this post. If there are any others that need combating or just where you are unsure what's going on, let me know in the comments!

The latest news I have about the new album is here.

We haven’t heard any music from the album yet

There is a video on YouTube and widely shared on Facebook with pictures from the Yes sessions over a piece of music. This is just an unofficial video done by a fan. The music played is not from the new Yes album. It’s "Love Is", the title track of Howe’s 2020 solo album. That album did also have input from Jon Davison and engineer/mixer Curtis Schwartz, who have worked on the new Yes album, which is I presume why it was chosen.

The photos, however, are from sessions for the new Yes album, as posted by Schwartz on his Facebook page.

Eddie Offord is not involved

Someone posted a rumour online, with no source given, claiming Eddie Offord was producing the album and that it included an 18 minute track. Sherwood has explicitly denied the report of Offord being involved. I take it we can also dismiss the 18 minute track claim. Alan White has said there are no epics (although he didn’t say what he counts as an epic) and that most of the tracks are 5-8 minutes long.


The album will probably be out by Thanksgiving

There was a report that the album would be out by Thanksgiving. This appears reliable. Sherwood has since said release would be around September/October, consistent with that. However, there has not been any official announcement.


Curtis Schwartz may be producing the album

Some people are talking about Curtis Schwartz as the producer of the album. He may be, but we don’t know! Schwartz has definitely been involved in recording sessions with Howe, Davison and Downes. He’s also been involved in mixing the album. Whether he will be credited as the producer or co-producer, we don’t yet know. It’s a reasonable guess.

Alan White is on drums

Some people have wondered whether White is playing on all of the album, or if the band's primary touring drummer, Jay Schellen, has contributed. White has played all the drums on the album and has also contributed to the writing.

Friday, 14 May 2021

Poll: What was the best Yes-related album of the second half of 2020?

Thanks to the 61 of you who voted in our latest poll, on the best Yes-related album of the second half of 2020. The result was very boring!

1. Steve Howe: Love is (w/ Davison): 84%, 51 votes

2= Blackfield: For the Music (w/ Horn): 3%, 2 votes

2= John Lennon: Gimme Some Truth. The Ultimate Mixes (w/ White): 3%, 2 votes

2= Days Between Stations: Giants (w/ Sherwood): 3%, 2 votes

5= Prog Collective: Worlds on Hold (w/ Davison, Sherwood, Downes, Moraz): 2 %, 1 vote

5= The McBroom Sisters: Black Floyd (w/ Sherwood): 2 %, 1 vote

5= In Continuum: Acceleration Theory Special Edition Parts One & Two (w/ Davison, writing by Anderson): 2 %, 1 vote

5= Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy & Randy George: Cov3r to Cov3r (w/ Davison): 2 %, 1 vote

There was 1 unspecified vote for 'Other'. There were, thus, no votes for Marcelo Paganini's Identity Crisis, Kurt Michaels' Stones from the Garden, The Rome Pro(G)ject's IV - Beaten Paths Different Ways or David Minasian's The Sound of Dreams, all with Billy Sherwood. Nor for Zebras Don't Smoke's Don't Mention the Swedes, nor Zorbonauts' The Unobserved Beaver, both with Geoff Downes. Nor Carrie Martin's Entity (w/ O Wakeman), nor Anyone's On the Ending Earth... (w/ Davison).

So, a massive win for Love is, Steve Howe's latest solo album, with Jon Davison supplying bass and backing vocals on some tracks, and Dylan Howe drumming throughout.

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Arc of Life make it real

We first heard about Arc of Life back in summer 2019, but details were sparse and it was just in December 2020 that we discovered the full line-up: Billy Sherwood, Jon Davison, Jay Schellen, Jimmy Haun and Dave Kerzner. So, three members of the current live Yes band, someone who played on a Yes album, and a prominent figure in the modern prog scene who recently did a Yes tribute album.

To a degree, the news acted as an excuse for the usual arguments in present day Yes fandom to be recycled, but there was a good amount of interest in the new band. People couldn't help but talk about Arc of Life as a possible precursor of a next generation Yes, as with Simon Barrow’s piece.

Then the debut single, "You Make It Real", came out.

I've rarely seen the enthusiasm for a project drain away so fast. Sounding (and looking) like a forgotten pop song from 1990, even many of those who were looking forward to the new band seemed taken aback. iTunes samples for the full album suggest something more 'proggy', perhaps akin to CIRCA:, so I don't want to judge the album by the single. But someone chose to lead with that song.

There are two (separable but intertwined) issues here. The style of the song, and whether it's a good song within that style. The latter is subjective, so I want to start with the former: the style and its fit with the marketing of the new band.

When Yes-adjacent musicians go out and say they are deliberately making an album in a '70s prog style – as with Rick Wakeman's The Red Planet, CIRCA:'s own Valley of the Windmill, or Kansas's The Absence of Presence – it tends to go down well with the fans. Deviate from that style (as perhaps with Steve Howe's Love Is) and you get a muted reaction.

I'm not saying musicians should stay in their lane for fear of fan rejection. Levin Torn White is getting a re-release on vinyl and there's an album that surprised people with its style very successfully. Nor do I have anything against pop: I love pop (Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia would be my pick of the year). The point I want to make is about marketing. Arc of Life must have realised that people will see them through the prism of Yes. They have definitely been marketed that way by Frontiers: Yes are explicitly mentioned 7 times in the video's blurb, including saying "that YES would be a clear point of influence". Promo talks of a "progressive rock philosophy, to craft creative, challenging, and ear-pleasing music that pushes boundaries" and a "grandiose and epic approach to music". So, if people are going to see you in those terms, if you are presented in those terms, wouldn't it make sense to pick a lead single that plays to that angle? Or, if nothing on the album does, to make sure the marketing feeds the message that this is a project in which the band members are doing something different from what you might expect. 

Kerzner online has pushed back on expectations of something Yes-like. He said on Facebook: "It's Billy and Jon's new tunes with a new line up. [...] I arrived late in the game after the songs were already written. If someone came to me and said "Dave what would you do IF you were wanting to make a sort of next-generation Yes album" that would be different. That was never mentioned whatsoever. These are just my pals from the latest Yes line up who asked me to join their side project band". Musicians should follow their muses: if Erato whispered in Sherwood and Davison's ears the words to "You Make It Real", I'm not saying they shouldn't record such a song. But maybe don't release that as your lead single while your label declares that "YES is clearly the main point of comparison".

Just before the release of the debut Arc of Life single, we had the single for the new Downes Braide Association album, "Love Among the Ruins". Here is a Yes member with a successful side project with a different sound to Yes. DBA offer something much closer to mainstream pop than Yes normally do, and do so successfully. But then Chris Braide is a massively successful songwriter/producer in modern pop music. I ran a quick Twitter poll of "Love Among the Ruins" versus "You Make It Real": DBA are ahead 11:2. We're into subjective territory here. Any song, some people will like it, some won't. I'm not a fan of "You Make It Real", although most of the iTunes samples for the album sound more interesting.

So, what were you expecting from Arc of Life? What did you think of "You Make It Real"? Are you looking forward to the album, Arc of Life, or indeed to the new DBA release, Halcyon Hymns?

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Poll: What was the best Yes-related album of the first half of 2020?

I hope everyone is having an OK pandemic. Perhaps buying some new music soothed your soul? I asked you all what was the best new Yes-related album of Jan-Jun 2020. 82 of you answered:

1. Rick Wakeman, The Red Planet: 37 votes (45%)

2. various artists: A Tribute to Keith Emerson & Greg Lake (w/ Sherwood, Downes, Davison, Moraz): 20 votes (24%)

3. David Cross & Peter Banks: Crossover (w/ Downes, Sherwood, Kaye, O Wakeman): 18 votes (22%)

4. Trevor Rabin: Can't Look Away - Deluxe: 4 votes (5%)

5= John Holden: Rise & Fall (w/ Sherwood, O Wakeman): 1 vote (1%)

5= The Warriors: The Lost Demos (w/ Anderson): 1 vote (1%)

There was 1 vote for 'other', but the album wasn't specified. There were no votes for Lawrence: After Arabia - Original Movie Soundtrack (w/ Wakeman R), Clannad's In a Lifetime (w/ Horn), Light Freedom Revival's True Love Dreamwishes (w/ Wakeman O), the "Yendor" audiobook (w/ Wakeman O), or Trevor Rabin's Lost Soundtracks Vol 1 – Jack Frost or Lost Soundtracks Vol 2 – Film Music.

The winner was not a surprise. The Red Planet has been getting rave reviews and is a significant release for Wakeman (senior). Most of the Yes-related albums in the first half of this year were finished before the pandemic began, but The Red Planet was finished after lockdown started and had a delayed release because of the difficulties. We'll see whether there's a crop of albums made entirely during lockdown over the next few months.

A commendable second place for another Cleopatra Records tribute album. That's better than most of these albums do. I think ELP's music adapts well to this format, as with the great Encores, Legends and Paradox: A Tribute to ELP, because it's music with lots of room for solos and personal touches to come through. Third was Crossover, my choice and probably the last significant Peter Banks release there'll ever be. In all, albums featuring Billy Sherwood collectively got 39 votes, two above The Red Planet.

My polling widget is now giving me results on a regional breakdown. US voters preferred A Tribute to Keith Emerson & Greg Lake, then Crossover, before The Red Planet, although maybe that's partly about copies of The Red Planet taking long to get over to the US? UK voters chose The Red Planet, only putting A Tribute to Keith Emerson & Greg Lake third equal. German votes also went for The Red Planet, while French voters picked Can't Look Away! There were also votes from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Japan and New Zealand.

Friday, 29 May 2020

Poll: What was the best Yes-related album of the second half of 2019?

After an inexcusably long process - we started before most people had heard of a coronavirus! - we finally have the answer to what you thought was the best Yes-related album of the second half of 2019. Out of 75 votes, you said...

1. Downes Braide Association: Live in England, 28 votes (37%)
2. Steve Howe Trio: New Frontier (w/ writing by Bruford), 25 votes (33%)
3. Refugee: Refugee [re-release] (w/ Moraz), 12 votes (16%)
4. Rodney Matthews and Jeff Scheetz with Oliver Wakeman: Trinity (w/ Wakeman R), 6 votes (8%)
5. In Continuum: Acceleration Theory Part Two: Annihilation (w/ Davison, writing by Anderson), 4 votes (5%)
6. Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders: Get the Money (w/ Davison), 0 votes (0%)

So, a close result in the end, but victory for the Downes Braide Association's first live album, just ahead of my choice, the Steve Howe Trio album. The winners for the first half of the year were Jon Anderson's 1000 Hands: Chapter One and Trevor Horn's Reimagines the Eighties, so combined I think that shows 2019 was a great year for Yes-related releases with representation from most of the band's best known members.