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.
More songs from the attic, although it appears that Steve Howe’s attic is bigger than most peoples’ homes. Common sense told me that Homebrew 2 would be a collection of leftover leftovers, but I’ve never been one to listen to common sense. Instead, the first and second Homebrew collections are very similar in terms of quality and ancestry. You’ll find home versions of Yes songs (“Masquerade,” “The Serpentine”) and Steve Howe solo songs (“Surface Tension”), new age instrumentals (“Together,” “The Spiral”), old chestnuts lost to time (“Every Time You Look Over Your Shoulder”) and the sort of fleshed-out ideas that Howe would typically bring to the next Yes project (“Rhythm of the Road,” “Separate Ways”). Highlights (and Homebrew 2 has them) include a duet of Howe and Patrick Moraz on the classic “Beginnings” and the lost songs (Howe’s voice notwithstanding), which includes “Resistance Day.” Yes fans will enjoy the extra time in Howe’s attic, rummaging through old souvenirs and half-completed songs. The Homebrew discs are vanity releases, however, so if the idea of hearing part of Relayer in its earliest form (“The Serpentine”) doesn’t excite you (and, honestly, I’m not saying it should), then these aren’t your cup of tea. As I’ve mused elsewhere (probably in the previous Homebrew review, and likely in all future Homebrew reviews), I could listen to Steve Howe play the guitar for hours, so I enjoy these collections. It may be the history lesson that draws me in, but it’s the music that keeps me coming back. I’m actually excited to hear the third installament of this. Of course, I said the same thing about Anthony Phillips’ Private Parts & Pieces but, as I noted earlier, common sense and I are passing strangers.
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.
Kronomyth 16.0: TURBREWLENCE. Every five years or so, Steve collects all the bits and pieces from his home recording studio and releases them under the Homebrew brand. Homebrew 3 features demos of songs that appeared on Turbulence, Quantum Guitars and Natural Timbre plus a fine assortment of fragments, unreleased songs and instrumentals. Unlike the first two Homebrews, you won’t find any windows into classic Yes material on Homebrew 3. What you will find is another treasure trove of good ideas that, with a little polish, might have graced any number of Steve Howe, Yes or even Asia albums. Homebrew 3 contains quite a few unreleased songs, and I’ll admit that there is a certain pleasure in hearing Steve sing these days, as it brings another layer of melody into the mix. In fact, listening to songs like “Suddenly” and “Just A Passing Phase,” I’m reminded of the demo recordings of XTC (Homespun). (Steve Howe and XTC? Now that would be a pairing for the ages!) While you can hear the ladle scrape the bottom of the barrel once or twice (e.g., “Getting Through”), what impressed me on Homebrew 3 is how deep the barrel goes. Howe seems to have an endless supply of good ideas, and what the Homebrew releases lack in production quality they make up for in variety. Here, you’ll hear Steve Howe’s acoustic side, electric side, sense of humor and sense of wonder in a generous assortment. Yes fans will feel at home on the Homebrew releases, perhaps even moreso than some of the proper Steve Howe solo albums like Turbulence. I understand that many might feel the Homebrew sessions are non-essential, but in a world with so little magic, I’ll take it where I find it, and I found more of it than I expected on Homebrew 3.