Kronomyth 6.0: “DRINK ME.” This is the first sketchbook of studio recordings from Steve Howe, featuring early versions of ABWH songs including “Brother of Mine,” “Birthright” and… wait, come back. I know, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe probably isn’t your favorite Yes record. And Steve does sing on this album, which they should really warn you about with some kind of sticker on the cover (e.g., WARNING: No animals were harmed in the making of this record. That’s actually a man singing… poorly.) Yes is one of my two favorite bands (Jethro Tull is the other), though, so I’ll indulge the man more than most, and can listen to him just play the guitar for hours. If you feel the same way, Homebrew will go down surprisingly smooth. Howe’s home studio is a professional eight-track affair that allows him to multitrack guitars, drums (mostly synthetic) and keyboards to achieve his musical visions—which, it turns out, are pretty close to the final versions we know and love to compare to Yes. I was surprised, for example, to find how much these studio sketches of “Birthright” (“Red And White”), “Brother of Mine” (“At The Full Moon,” “Never Stop Learning”), “Order of the Universe” (“Barren Land”) and “Quartet” (“More About You”) were carried over intact to the final product. While versions of recent Steve Howe songs and one GTR track (“Sketches In The Sun”) may not curl your proggish toes, an excerpt from “The Revealing Science of God” (“For This Moment”) and “Breakaway From It All” provide a pleasant step back in time and confirm that Howe was a complete songwriter on his own. I had always assumed that the Yes songwriting process was more collaborative in nature, but it appears to have been a piecemeal affair, with Howe cooking up some of the tastiest bits in his own kitchen.
Steve Howe and Martin Taylor are a pair of outstanding instrumentalists, but it’s the instruments that take center stage on Masterpiece Guitars. This collaborative project actually includes a third party, collector Scott Chinery, who had amassed an impressive array of classic guitars in his (short) lifetime. Chinery had planned to publish an illustrated book of his guitar collection and, after seeing Howe’s own guitar book, engaged Howe and Taylor to preserve the collection in eternal audio as well through new recordings. The music featured on Masterpiece Guitars includes original compositions from Howe and Taylor as well as classics arranged for (mostly) jazz guitar: “Smile,” “Somewhere,” “All The Things You Are,” “Thank Heaven For Little Girls.” Steve Howe’s role is primarily as a producer/accompanist, with Taylor assuming the lion’s share of the playing. Thus, the disc is skewed toward the fluid jazz style that Taylor had established during his years alongside Stephane Grappelli, with Howe’s new age or country pieces in between. In other words, Steve Howe fans don’t necessarily need to add this disc to their own collection. And yet it is a wonderful-sounding disc, rich with the ringing intonations of guitar royalty. If you can name more than five vintage luthiers, chances are you’ll appreciate this effort. In fact, if you even know what a luthier is, you’re probably in the target demographic for this disc. From a Steve Howe perspective (since I’m not a huge jazz guitar fan), it’s interesting to see Masterpiece Guitars as the culmination of Howe’s own guitar cataloguery (ok, I made that word up), but only a few tracks (e.g., “Tailpiece,” “Thought Waves”) actually sound like the work of Howe. For the same price, you could get an entire album of Howe on any one of the Homebrew recordings. So what you have here is a labor of love from a trio of interesting characters whose interests intersect on fabled bridges, the crossing of which you may or may not feel compelled to make.