Steve Howe, legendary guitarist and songwriter with Prog Rock giants Yes, released his brand new solo album 'Love Is' on 31st July through BMG Records. 'Love Is' is Howe’s first solo album since the all-instrumental 'Time' in 2011 and has a balance of five instrumental tracks and five songs. The album is available as CD, gatefold digi-sleeve with 12 page booklet, and LP, Black vinyl 180gm with gatefold sleeve, liner notes and lyrics. Howe sings lead vocals and plays electric, acoustic and steel guitars, keyboards, percussion and bass guitar on the instrumentals while current Yes vocalist Jon Davison provides vocal harmonies and plays bass guitar on the vocal tracks. The album also features Steve's son Dylan Howe (Wilko Johnson) on drums. The album was written, engineered and produced by Howe with further engineering and mixing by Curtis Schwartz. “I called the album 'Love Is' because it hints at the central idea that that love is important but also love of the universe and the ecology of the world is very important, Alexander Humboldt went around the world and recognised we are destroying the planet but that was 200 years ago! We are still destroying the planet and, I suppose, my songs show the yearning I have for the love of nature and how beauty, art and music all stem from nature. There is a theme about those things, love, beauty, ecology, nature and wonderful people.”
Steve Howe started his music career in 1964, playing around London clubs in Blues/Psychedelic Rock bands such as the Syndicats, The In-Crowd, Tomorrow and Bodast. In 1970 Howe joined Yes, replacing original guitarist Peter Banks, and became an integral member contributing songwriting and instrumentation on their next eight studio albums, including 'The Yes Album' (1971), 'Fragile' (1971), 'Close to the Edge' (1972), 'Tales from Topographic Oceans' (1973), 'Relayer' (1974), 'Going for the One' (1977), 'Tormato' (1978) and 'Drama' (1980), before Yes called it a day for the first time in 1981. They were, of course, to reform a year later, but without Howe. It was at this point when Howe teamed up with keyboardist Geoff Downes, singer and bassist John Wetton, and drummer Carl Palmer to form the supergroup Asia. They went on to release two highly commercially successful albums, 'Asia' (1982) and Alpha (1982). Howe left soon after the release of ‘Alpha’ citing irreconcilable differences with Wetton. In 1985, Howe formed GTR with guitarist Steve Hackett (Genesis), singer Max Bacon, drummer Jonathan Mover and bassist Phil Spalding. They released one studio album, 'GTR' in 1986.
After several years of session work, Howe got a call from Jon Anderson (Yes) in 1988 to join another supergroup, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe. They released their sole album 'Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe' in 1989. Tracks for a second studio album were included with songs recorded by Yes to make the thirteenth Yes album, 'Union' released in 1991. This marked the end of Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe and the start of the eight-member Yes formation comprising Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe and Yes musicians Chris Squire, Trevor Rabin, Tony Kaye and Alan White. The reunion idea looked great on paper, but in reality it did not live up to expectations, so Howe bailed out soon after.
In 1992, Downes reformed Asia which marked the return of Howe for a very brief sojourn, appearing on their 'Aqua' album in 1992. By 1995 Howe was persuaded to rejoin Yes for a third time. This time he would stay with them for the long haul, going on to release a further seven studio albums, including 'Keys to Ascension' (1996), 'Keys to Ascension 2' (1997), 'Open Your Eyes' (1997), 'The Ladder' (1999), 'Magnification' (2001), 'Fly from Here' (2011) and 'Heaven & Earth' (2014).
During an extended break in Yes activity, Howe rejoined Asia when the original line-up reunited for a 25th anniversary tour in 2006. They released three studio albums ‘Phoenix’ (2008), ‘Omega’ (2010) and ‘XXX’ (2012). In January 2013, Howe announced his decision to leave the band and concentrate on Yes and his solo career.
Howe’s solo recording career has been bubbling away on the side lines since his debut ‘Beginnings’ was released in 1975. Since then he has released around twenty one studio albums and a scattering of live releases. His second album ‘The Steve Howe Album’ followed in 1979, but it wasn’t until 1991 until he released his third album ‘Turbulence’. For Howe’s fourth album ‘The Grand Scheme of Things’ released in 1993, he was joined for the first time by his sons Dylan and Virgil on drums and keyboards respectively. With this line-up he embarked on his first solo tour, captured for posterity on his first solo live album, ‘Not Necessarily Acoustic’ (1994), with a second documented release ‘Pulling Strings’ in 1998. From 1993 onwards came a steady stream of studio album releases including ‘Mothballs’ (1994), ‘Homebrew’ (1996,) ‘Masterpiece Guitars with Martin Taylor’ (1996), ‘Quantum Guitar’ (1998), ‘Portraits of Bob Dylan’ (1999), ‘Homebrew 2’ (2000), ‘Natural Timbre’ (2001), ‘Skyline’ (2002), ‘Elements’ (2003), ‘Spectrum’ (2005), ‘Homebrew 3’ (2005), ‘Motif’ (2008), ‘Homebrew 4’ (2010), ‘Time’ (2011), ‘Homebrew 5’ (2013), ‘Homebrew 6’ (2016) and now ‘Love Is’ (2020). It was around 2007 when Howe founded the Steve Howe Trio, a Jazz combo featuring his son Dylan on drums and Ross Stanley on Hammond organ. The Steve Howe Trio released the studio album 'The Haunted Melody' in 2008 and the live album, 'Travelling', in 2010. To cap the first forty or so years of Howe's musical contributions and impact on Prog Rock, in 2018 Howe finally received the Prog God award at that year’s Progressive Music Awards.
Fast forward to the present and the release of Howe's first new solo studio album in nine years. This ten track album alternates between instrumental tracks and songs. First up is the delicate and charming instrumental track 'Fulcrum', gently plucked acoustic guitar opens up the track before delicately tapped and subtle tambourine accompaniment joins it to lay the foundation. A more robust drum rhythm is soon established allowing sweet melodic electric guitar lines to weave and wander between the grooves. The upbeat 'See Me Through' livens proceedings up with a steady rhythm guitar phrase setting the pace before an insistent drum pattern comes to the fore providing the driving energy. Howe's signature clean and precise melodic guitar runs predominate, with beautifully sweet vocal harmonies adding warmth, reminiscent of Crosby and Nash. Howe is quoted as to the songs meaning; “See Me Through looks at the idea that we get through life by not driving ourselves that hard but attempting to achieve things with people who help you along the way.”
'Beyond The Call' is another elegantly engaging instrumental piece with softly strummed acoustic guitar laying the foundation for some enticing mood enhancing melodic lead guitar runs to float and glide gracefully over the top. Howe's guitar tone is thrilling and fat with a slight fuzz tone sound not unlike that of Mike Oldfield, as heard on 'Ommadawn'. Marching style drums enter midway through breaking up the melodic pattern before a more straightforward Rock beat returns. 'Love Is A River' is the stand out song on the album with several textural shifts making it a captivating and interesting listen. The track opens with descending pull-off notes played on a 12-string guitar with subtle 6-string acoustic guitar strumming in the background, the descending riff is repeated on electric guitar adding further weight and emphasis to the theme. A slow laid back drum pattern is established setting the relaxed meandering pace. The track's repeated hook theme is played on a 12-string guitar with beautiful sweet toned slide guitar passages played on electric and steel guitars that glide gracefully over the chord changes. A wondrous atmospheric song with mellow mellifluous vocal accompaniment. A slight increased shift in rhythmic pace midway through the song breaks up the laid back feel.
In at number five comes the instrumental 'Sound Picture', a sprightly paced Jazz Funk rocker with a beautiful Celtic sounding guitar phrase. Periodic shifts in rhythm patterns keep the senses alert and focused. Warm and sensual guitar tones abound, with hints of Howe's classic Yes guitar phrasing in evidence. 'It Ain’t Easy' is a mid-tempo hippie Country rocker with the sound of a Jew's Harp twanging away merrily in the background. Howe's delicate; almost fragile, English sounding vocals distract the attention away from the song being an out and out Country song. 'Pause For Thought' is another laid back instrumental track with tantalising adept guitar arpeggios predominating. A gently strummed mandolin hides gracefully in the background adding a nice jangling texture to the overall sound. The presence of a 70’s style synthesiser gives the arrangement a 70’s retro vibe. Heavily echoed guitar effects lend this track a dark and moody Psychedelic feel, which adds to the overall retro feel.
'Imagination' sounds a lot like Yes in places with Howe's recognisable guitar tone and fast paced phrasing to the fore. Pleasant enough track, warm mid-tempo AOR. Howe's thin vocals express a vulnerable tone, and do tend to fight to be heard at times. “Imagination is dedicated to my granddaughter Zuni. It’s about how I see some of the things she’s experienced in her short seven years”. 'The Headlands' is a mellifluent sounding mid-tempo instrumental track with some tastefully played and exquisitely melodic slide guitar that is soothing and calming to the senses. The final song is 'On The Balcony' which starts out quite heavy with fast fuzz tone guitar scale runs and palm muted root note rhythm guitar over a pounding driving drum beat. The intensity and pace eases up in time to allow Howe's soft fragile vocals to enter the narrative. “On The Balcony is a paean to appreciating the roses and ‘just letting things be’”. An enchantingly entrancing sustained guitar solo is superlatively compelling, adding grace and charm. Overall a pleasant enough album with some scintillating and melodic guitar playing that is sure to please die hard Steve Howe fans and maybe even a few Yes fans too!
Steven C. Gilbert