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Steve Howe - Beginnings CD (album) cover

BEGINNINGS

Steve Howe

 

Crossover Prog

2.67 | 146 ratings

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Psychedelic Paul
4 stars Guitar legend STEVE HOWE (born 1947) is best-known as a long-standing member of the Prog-Rock supergroups YES and ASIA. He began his illustrious career in the 1960's with the Psychedelic Rock bands Bodast, Tomorrow and the Syndicats before joining YES in 1970 for their third studio outing "The Yes Album" (1971). He appeared on the following seven YES studio albums up to and including the "Drama" album in 1980 before leaving to form ASIA together with keyboard player Geoff Downes. In 1985, he formed the supergroup GTR with Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett and they recorded one self-titled album together in 1986. Steve Howe featured on the "Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe" album in 1989, which was a YES album in all but name, and he returned to YES for the "Union" album in 1991. He didn't feature on the following YES "Talk" (1994) album, due to the age-old band problem of "artistic differences" over the recording of the preceding "Union" album. You can't keep a good musician down though and he returned to YES in fine form for the "Keys to Ascension" album in 1996. He's appeared on all of the following six YES studio albums, up to and including the most recent album "Heaven and Earth" (2014). Steve Howe launched his solo career with the "Beginnings" album in 1975, after the rigours of recording the YES "Relayer" (1974) album, when all of the YES members were taking a well-deserved long break from the band to each record a solo album. He followed the "Beginnings" album with "The Steve Howe Album" in 1979, which was generally well-received by critics. Altogether, Steve Howe has recorded twelve studio albums throughout his long career, as well as six albums of re-recorded material released as the "Homebrew" series. He even found the time to form a Jazz group in 2007, imaginatively named "The Steve Howe Trio", and they've so far recorded three albums together. Steve Howe wrote all of the music and lyrics for his first solo "Beginnings" album and he bravely takes on lead vocal duties, although Steve Howe's not normally noted for his vocal abilities. The album featured some of Steve Howe's YES bandmates, Bill Bruford & Alan White on drums and Patrick Moraz on keyboards. The fantasy cover artwork was designed by Roger Dean.

It's time to wake up and smell the coffee for "Doors of Sleep". The most surprising thing about this first song is hearing Steve Howe's lilting tones for the very first time, and he does a pretty commendable job as a singer too. The song has all the trademark ascending arpeggios and descending diminuendos that we've come to know and love from Steve Howe during his YES years. Not surprisingly, this music is very reminiscent of YES, and one thing's for sure, you won't be falling asleep to the sound of the chiming chords and rousing chorus in "Doors of Sleep". This is no hushaby lullaby. This is a cadence and cascade of crashing crescendos in the best traditions of powerful and pulsating polyphonic prog. We're heading for a land down under next for "Australia", which sounds like it could be an ad for the Australian Tourist Board with Steve Howe urging us all to "Come to Australia". It's an optimistic feel-good travel song with some nice proggy YES-style power chords, although one can't help thinking the song would have sounded better with Jon Anderson on vocals. Riding in on the next wave is "The Nature of the Sea", an instrumental number with enough staccato stop-starts and sudden chord changes to keep even the most hardened of prog fans happy. The music opens in tranquil fashion, conjuring up a beach scene of being sat on a deckchair and watching the waves gently lapping over the shoreline, but watch out for the tide coming in because there's a tsunami of passionate and powerful prog arriving on the next wave. The next song "Lost Symphony" is an up-tempo and uplifting Jazz-Rock song of surging and symphonic splendour, with the sound of a cool saxophone very much at the forefront. This particular song represents quite a departure from the sound of YES, but variety is the spice of life, so they say, and this lively song could liven up many a dull evening spent indoors.

Side Two opens with the title track and longest piece of music on the album: "Beginnings". It's a seven-and-a half-minute long classically-inspired pastoral piece of music, sounding like a Bach Cantata, with sweeping violins, charming cellos, gently tinkling pianos, a woodwind section, and of course, featuring the magnificent maestro himself, Steve Howe on classical guitar. It's a delightful piece of classical music that conjures up a peaceful Bachian image of a green and pleasant meadow where sheep may safely graze on a warm summer's day. The next song appears like a "Will o the Wisp", and represents a return to more familiar Prog-Rock territory, sounding like a curious cross between Renaissance and YES, with a pounding bass guitar making its presence loudly felt in the formidable style of YES bassist Chris Squire - although it's actually Colin Gibson. Charging in next is "Ram", although this is a gently playful acoustic guitar ram that wouldn't hurt anybody. It's a perfect opportunity for Steve Howe to showcase his magnificent talent. Next up is "Pleasure Stole the Night", a gorgeously mellow and mellifluous slice of pastoral Prog-Folk. This lovely music sounds as English as strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, or maybe a troupe of Morris Men gaily prancing around the Maypole - well, maybe not THAT English! "Pleasure Stole the Night" is a real pleasure to listen to though - at any time of the day or night. Sadly, the "Beginnings" album is now coming to an end because we're about to "Break Away From It All" for the final song. Steve Howe treats us to another dazzling display of stunning guitar virtuosity in a song that sounds like a funky version of YES, with shades of "Owner of a Lonely Heart".

As with any first solo album from a longtime band member, this is an album where Steve Howe really stretches his wings and displays his versatile musical feathers in magnificent plumage by firmly establishing his Jazz and Classical credentials, long before The Steve Howe Trio came into existence. Steve Howe might not have the strongest voice in the world, but the marvellous music on this debut album more than makes up for any vocal deficiencies. Although the music is generally a bit of a departure from the familiar sound of YES, it's still very proggy and there's enough glittering guitar glissandos and captivating chord changes on offer here to keep any ardent YES fan happy.

Psychedelic Paul | 4/5 |

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