Saturday, 26 February 2022

Poll: What was the best Yes-related release of the second half of 2021?

I asked you what was the best Yes-related album of the second half of 2021? (As with all in this series of polls, I'm excluding actual Yes releases, so no The Quest.) 60 of you voted, and the results were...

1. Steve Howe: Homebrew 7, 35% (21 votes)

2. various artists: Animals Reimagined – A Tribute to Pink Floyd (w/ Wakeman R, Moraz, Sherwood, Davison), 28% (17 votes)

3. John Lodge: The Royal Affair and After (w/ Davison), 17% (10 votes)

4. George Harrison: All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary Edition (w/ White), 12% (7 votes)

5= David Minasian: Random Dreams: The Very Best of David Minasian Vol. 1 (w/ Sherwood), 2% (1 vote)

5= Etta James: The Montreux Years (w/ Wakeman R), 2% (1 vote)

5= Jake Shimabukuro: Jake & Friends (w/ Anderson), 2% (1 vote)

5= Robby Steinhardt: Not in Kansas Anymore (w/ Moraz), 2% (1 vote)

5= Rick Wakeman: She - Music from the Original Soundtrack and More, 2% (1 vote)

There were no votes for Anyone's In Humanity (with Davison) or the multi-artist release myndstream Collection, Vol. 1 (with R Wakeman).

A good win for Howe's Homebrew 7, the first Homebrew release to be (mostly) material not otherwise released, rather than the usual alternative and early versions. But a good second place for Animals Reimagined, the latest of many Pink Floyd tribute albums from Cleopatra Records. Maybe the slightly new approach is working for them? I thought the prior release, Still Wish You were Here, was better, but it only came 4th with 5% of the votes in its poll. Maybe Animals Reimagined faced weaker competition?

Sunday, 16 January 2022

Poll: Best track on The Quest

 I left this poll up a while and you voted in numbers, 288 of you. And the results were...

1. "The Ice Bridge" - 23%, 66 votes

2. "Sister Sleeping Soul" - 21%, 60 votes

3. "A Living Island" - 11%, 32 votes

4. "Leave Well Alone" - 10%, 29 votes

5. "Dare to Know" - 9%, 26 votes

6. "The Western Edge" - 8%, 22 votes

7. "Minus the Man" - 6%, 17 votes

8. "Music to My Ears" - 4%, 12 votes

9= "Damaged World" - 3%, 9 votes

9= "Mystery Tour" - 3%, 9 votes

11. "Future Memories" - 2%, 6 votes

It seems it was InsideOut who picked "The Ice Bridge" as the first single, so good choice there, but also InsideOut who put "Sister Sleeping Soul" on the second disc, a sort of relegation, yet it came second on this poll. That said, the other "bonus disc" tracks are down at the end.

Poor "Future Memories" - it doesn't deserve to be bottom! I can't remember now, but I think voted for "Leave Well Alone", unless I went for "Dare to Know"... They work as the core of the album for me.

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Poll: What was the best Yes-related album of the first half of 2021?

I asked you what was the best Yes-related album of the first half of 2021. There were 115 votes, which were as follows:

1. Downes Braide Association: Halcyon Hymns - 44% (50 votes)

2. Arc of Life: Arc of Life (w/ Davison, Sherwood) - 20% (23 votes)

? Mike Tiano: CreƩtisvan (w/ Sherwood) - 15% (17 votes)

3. Jon Anderson: Sunlight - 6% (7 votes)

4. A Tribute to Pink Floyd – Still Wish You Were Here (w/ Downes, R Wakeman, Moraz) - 5% (6 votes)

5. Rick Wakeman: Return to the Centre of the Earth deluxe box set - 4% (5 votes)

6. Nolan & Wakeman: Tales by Gaslight (w/ O Wakeman, R Wakeman, previously released material w/ Banks) - 3% (4 votes)

7. Fear Factory: Aggression Continuum (w/ Khoroshev) - 2% (2 votes)

8. Beth Patterson: Singles (w/ Sherwood) - 1% (1 vote)

There were no votes for Deckchair Poets' The Crop Circlers' Guide to Abstract Expressionism (w/ Downes), Badfinger's No Matter What – Revisiting the Hits (w/ R Wakeman) or John Holden & Friends' charity album Together Apart (w/ O Wakeman). All 17 votes for CreĆ©tisvan came in a clump in the last 2 days of the poll and mostly from just two IP addresses, so I don't think that represents an organic expression of feeling.

A clear win for Halcyon Hymns with over double the votes of the second place Arc of Life. Sunlight does well considering it was rapidly withdrawn from release!

Sunday, 29 August 2021

First thoughts on The Quest

 InsideOut kindly sent me a copy of the new Yes album, The Quest. I presume, reader, you've heard "The Ice Bridge" and, to let you know where I am coming from, I enjoy it. I don't want to give away spoilers to the rest of the album. It's an album where it's nice to go in cold. Tracks like "Dare to Know" and "Leave Well Alone" have twists and turns that are worth hearing without knowing where they are going, while "Mystery Tour" is worth encountering fresh for the lyrics. But should curiosity overcome you...

This is proper headphones in a darkened room music; it's not going down the gym music. The first half is strong. Tracks 1-5 make for a good Yes album that can stand up to comparison with other Yes releases of the last 30 years. I'm sure opinions will be divided, because they always are, but these are interesting compositions, full of 'Yessy' arrangements, including lovely use of orchestra. The core of the album for me are the two big Howe compositions, "Dare to Know" and "Leave Well Alone", that combine dynamic arrangements, harmony vocals and esoteric lyrics in an effective way. At 6-8 minutes, they are not long by Yes standards, but they still take you on a journey. They feel like only Yes could have recorded them. The decision to add orchestra has paid off, adding an extra dimension.

Interleaved with those two are the Sherwood/Davison co-writes. Sherwood's songwriting is familiar from his solo albums and many other projects, and we've been introduced to the pair's writing in Arc of Life. "Minus the Man" and "The Western Edge" are recognisably from the same pen, yet benefit from Howe's production and the performance of the whole band and orchestra. I like the chaos of "The Western Edge", but it is the second shortest song on the album and I wished it had space (that's a joke you'll get when you hear the album) to go somewhere more.

I am guessing the latter half of the album will be more controversial. I enjoy "Future Memories" and "A Living Island", but they show a more romantic and lyrical side to Davison's writing. I loved "It was All We Knew" on Heaven & Earth, but many people said, while they enjoyed the song, it didn't belong on a Yes album. I can see the same complaints may arise here (not that I agree). "A Living Island" is interesting as a disc closer, travelling to unexpected places as it goes on, a bit yacht rock, a bit Queen, with a waving-lighters-in-the-air-at-the-end-of-a-gig vibe.

The bonus disc is just that. This is b-side material, nice to have as extras. "Damaged World", with a Howe lead vocal, is the strongest. "Mystery Tour", the weakest.

People felt Heaven & Earth was compartmentalised, Davison working with each other member, but the band not coming together to make an "Into the Storm". With the band divided by a pandemic, there's a worry of the same again. And it does still feel compartmentalised to a degree. This is the Howe song, this is the Sherwood song, this is the Davison song. There isn't a "Homeworld" here. But you do hear a band supporting each other. Sherwood's bass elevates "Leave Well Alone", while Howe's guitar lifts "The Western Edge". Downes and White do a nice intro for "Music to My Ears". "Future Memories" is Davison's but wouldn't be the same without Howe's input.

Overall, The Quest doesn't sound a lot like any prior Yes album while also being the sort of thing only Yes would do. It's a sincere album: this is who they are. They're not trying to have a hit single, or doing an 18 minute epic because the label wants one. A Yes without Squire or Anderson was always going to be a difficult sell. It won't heal divisions in Yes fandom (nothing could). The single LP version of the album, the first six tracks, might make for a stronger experience. But it is an album I am enjoying, and an album that finds new things to say after a 50+ year career.

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

What releases have you been looking forward to?

In the run up to the news of Yes's new album, The Quest, I read an online discussion where some people were saying they were looking forward more to certain other projects than to Yes's new album. It makes sense to me that some would: if you're more a fan of Jon Anderson, then you are going to be more excited about a project like Invention of Knowledge 2 than a new album from the Steve Howe-led Yes. But I wanted to get a feel for how many people where excited about what forthcoming projects, so I ran this poll, and 153 of you voted.

Which new album are you most looking forward to?

1. The new Yes album (Howe, Davison, Downes, White, Sherwood): 73% (112 votes)

2. Trevor Rabin's next solo album: 10% (16 votes)

3. Anderson/Stolt 2: 9% (14 votes)

4. Jon Anderson's 1000 Hands: Chapter Two: 4% (6 votes)

5. The new Rick Wakeman and English Rock Ensemble album: 3% (5 votes)

Since the poll began, we finally got the announcement around the new Yes album, plus "The Ice Bridge" as a single, so that makes the new Yes album rather more concrete than some of these projects. However, the results didn't seem to change much after the announcement.

It appears from this poll that The Quest is the main focus for readers of the site. Anderson gets the second most votes across his two different projects, with Rabin close behind. Also since the poll began, we've had an interview where Anderson (not for the first time) says he isn't going to do an album releases any more, so maybe we shouldn't expect Chapter Two or Invention of Knowledge 2? Anderson's plans often go back and forth: I expect he will have new music out in some form. Indeed, also since the poll began, we got the surprise release of Sunlight... albeit followed by the sudden withdrawal of that release (story here)!

Bottom of the list, Wakeman's next album isn't attracting much attention, although The Red Planet got good reviews and fan reaction.

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.