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Steve Howe - Beginnings CD (album) cover

BEGINNINGS

Steve Howe

 

Crossover Prog

2.61 | 94 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
2 stars Steve Howe's atrocious vocals on this album are well-documented, so we won't belabor that point. Even without the nasally singing though, this is not as great an album as it probably should have been. All the trappings are here, from the Roger Dean cover; to numerous appearances from then-current as well as former members of Yes and Gryphon; to a smorgasbord of guitars/mandolins/harpsichords that Howe plays pretty much equally well. But the overall impression one if left with is somewhat underwhelming.

"Doors of Sleep" is a sort of love song, or maybe a tribute to a woman, most likely Howe's wife, whose photo is featured inside the cover fold of the album. This is a pretty sparse tune, with Alan White filling in on drums and Howe providing guitars and bass, as well as vocals. The lyrics are centered on an obscure 19th century poem by the British suffragette Alice Meynell. It is a rather tepid tune, and an odd choice to launch his first solo effort.

"Australia" sounds a bit like a dated nationalistic jingo for that island nation, but since to my knowledge neither Howe nor White has a strong connection to Australia, the significance is lost on me. "Australia" kind of flows into the instrumental "The Nature of the Sea", which is a decent enough wandering tune, but again adds little direction to the album. White is replaced by Gryphon band-mates drummer David Oberle and guitarist Graeme Taylor, but without the liner notes this isn't really a noticeable change.

Howe kicks up the tempo a bit on "Lost Symphony", and expands the sound of the album for the first time. Bassist Colin Gibson (who at the time was in Snafu), and Patrick Moraz on piano join White and Howe, along with some several saxophones played by Bud Beadle and Mick Eve, for an upbeat little number that is has some nice variety with Howe's mandolin and organ work, and the saxophones give the music a bit of a richer texture than the rest of the album up to that point. The lyrics border on just dull though: "Leaves enjoy their autumn. Do you like the fall? Suppose yourself above it all, in our self-made worlds". Right - pass the pipe Steve.

"Beginnings" is a rich work with an accompanying section referred to as "the Philharmonia", which consists of a couple of violins, viola, cello, string bass, flute, piccolo, oboe, and bassoon. Moraz continues on piano, though more subdued here, and adds a few short passages on harpsichord and moog. White's drums are nearly absent. This reminds me a bit of mood music for an old Merry Melodies cartoon. The musicianship is done well enough, but I fail to see the point of including this in the debut album of a guy who is about to be named the best guitarist in the business for the next five years.

"Will O' the Wisp" is a return to the Howe-White sparse duo, with a bit of piano sprinkled in from Moraz. Moraz is also credited with playing a mellotron on this song, but the sound doesn't stand out at all. Howe's guitar work is most distinctive here as anywhere else on the album, but again it fails to really grab the listener's attention for more than a few moments. There are two voices here at times, so either Howe overdubbed himself, or Moraz is doing some singing.

"Ram" is a very short interlude solo by Howe where he pretty much just shows that he can play a variety of instruments, including a dobra, banjo, and a washboard. This demonstration seems to be the only point of the two minutes this song lasts, and it sounds a bit like both a Spanish guitar tune, and a 30's urban movie soundtrack.

"Pleasure Stole the Night" has several singers on it, although again only Howe is credited for vocals. Perhaps the others begged off blame. Someone named Malcolm Bennett is credited with a flute on this one, and Bill Bruford makes a bit of a surprising appearance to close out the album on drums. Another forgettable song and Howe doesn't even stand out on guitar on this one.

The album ends with "Break Away From it All", where Howe kicks out a bit on both electric and steel guitar. Here again are the un-credited backing vocals. I guess this is a song about the metamorphosis that occurs as a boy becomes a man, in terms of exercising his individuality and finding a course in life. Sort of deep, but probably too deep for someone like Howe to pull off.

So in summary, the significance of this album is that it is the first solo Steve Howe released, done while he was still in his twenties and enjoying a lucrative career as a member of Yes. It's also (thankfully) the last one in which he performs all his own vocals. Other than that, there's little on this album to distinguish it or make it a desirable addition to anyone's record pile, except to complete a Howe or Yes collection. So, two stars is the right mark for Beginnings.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 2/5 |

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