From being at the very epicentre of the Summer of Love with psych legends Tomorrow, up to giving fans some of the most epic moments in the prog genre, guitar legend Steve Howe has most definitely been there, seen it and done it .. more than once .. and his contribution and influence has been recognised through being anointed a ‘Prog God’ in 2018 by readers of Prog magazine. So, at the age of 73, after a lifetime of sterling service on the prog front-line with Yes, Asia and ABWH, what is there left for him to do?
Record another solo album, is what. Like every other musician, Howe’s plans for 2020 have been turned on their head by a pandemic so, with the Yes tour reprising their 1974 album, Relayer, having been deferred until 2021, Howe has chosen now to give us his latest solo album, Love Is. Several years in gestation, it’s a ten track album comprising five instrumental tracks and five featuring vocals. On the album, Howe plays guitars (acoustic, electric and steel) as well as keyboards, bass and percussion. Yes singer Jon Davison provides vocal harmonies and plays bass on the vocal tracks, with son Dylan Howe contributing drums as well.
The album was called Love Is because, Howe explained, ‘it hints at the idea of love being important, but also that love of the universe and ecology is also important’. The music all the way through is smooth and easy, very little rock to be heard, only one song exceeds five minutes and they’re all played with the kind of seasoned panache top musos like Steve Howe can effortlessly produce. The songs on the album reflect Howe’s belief in nature and wonderment, coupled with his belief that man is unnecessarily damaging the ecological system. On See Me Through, he says we must ‘reserve our right to believe in what science can’t prove’, Imagination he dedicates to his granddaughter, In the Balcony begins with some prog riffing and is as close to rock as the album comes, and in Love Is A River, he asks, ‘is it any wonder we’re confused by the world we’ve made?’, and it’s this reviewers candidate for best track on the album.
The instrumental tracks feature all the highly evolved prog guitar work you’d expect from one of the genre’s acknowledged masters, and there are some quite beautiful melody lines. Sound Picture has a slight prog tinge, the single Heartlands is a more upbeat rock tune, reminiscent of later period Shadows, there’s a delicate beauty to Beyond the Call with its Mike Oldfield feel, and Pause for Though’ incorporates synths and sounds as though it was recorded around the same period as Nexus, Howe’s album with his son Virgil.
The vocals may not quite match the quality of the music, but then nobody ever bought a Hendrix album just for Jimi’s singing, did they? There’s plenty of top drawer musicianship on this album to enjoy but, I suspect, it’ll be an album bought mainly by Steve Howe fans and Yes completists.