Steve Howe returns with his first solo studio album since the all instrumental Time in 2011, but now selecting to alternate the tracks between instrumentals and songs. That works too. Steve is, of course, an incredible instrumentalist but he also writes really good and thoughtful song lyrics which seem to balance this release perfectly.
The title of the album reflects the content pretty well. It is a series of reflections on love in its varied forms; romantic, familial, but also love of ecology and the earth. Steve has said: “I called the album Love Is because it hints at the central idea that love is important but also love of the universe and the ecology of the world is very important. “Alexander Humboldt went around the world and recognised we are destroying the planet but that was 200 years ago! We are still destroying the planet and, I suppose, my songs show the yearning I have for the love of nature and how beauty, art and music all stem from nature. There is a theme about those things, love, beauty, ecology, nature and wonderful people.”
The overall feel of the album is somewhat mellow, although there are quite driving parts, as on On The Balcony. Steve’s approach seems to be stated from the outset on the opening instrumental Fulcrum which has his acoustic and electric sounds blending and highlighting each other. It is that distinctive approach that highlights in many ways what Steve Howe’s music is about. It is not just about the music itself, it is about setting the right mood and atmosphere, the right colours and timbre. Those are the details that can bring the music alive.
Steve has been criticised in the past for his vocal work. The harmonic melodies of Yes apart, criticism of his singing has been, bluntly, that he shouldn’t. There’s an argument to be made that there are many famous singers who really can’t do it that well, and would struggle to hold a note. On this album, Steve appears to have taken the bull by the horns, so to speak, and keeps his vocals well within his range and as mellow as the rest of the music.
The songs themselves do portray the varied aspects of love well. Love Is A River reflects on the changing nature of love, of how it ebbs and flows, whilst See Me Through looks at the idea that in life we achieve things with people who help you along the way, rather than remaining entirely self-focused. Imagination, dedicated to Steve’s granddaughter Zuni, is a short study of things she has faced during her lifetime. Steve’s lyrics are good throughout, not being given to the tweeness that could easily develop considering the subject matter.
The style of the music is as varied as ever for a Steve Howe album. Some of it is quite introspective in its mellowness, while other tracks, such as Pause For Thought and From The Balcony, do rock out a little. There’s even a touch of jazz on display too, especially on the instrumental Sound Picture.
Steve plays most of the instruments himself on the album, but is joined once again by his regular drummer, son Dylan who brings his great accents and is allowed to spread his wings from time to time, and also by current Yes singer Jon Davison, who provides some harmony back up singing that compliments Steve’s voice well. He also plays bass on some of the tracks, really well as it happens.
It is unfair, but the release of an album by Steve inevitably will have people asking whether it means a Yes album is in the pipeline, or even if the album sounds like a Yes album. In truth, a couple of the tracks, Love Is A River and On A Balcony, would probably sit well on a Yes album. That’s not to say they will have done though.
For the most part, then, this is a warm-hearted if somewhat easy-going album that highlights many of the points that makes Steve Howe’s music so good. The playing is excellent throughout, the music is colourful and textured, and highly evocative of its subject matter. Steve’s distinctive signature sounds are prominent throughout, but one of the lasting feelings is one of beauty. Beautiful playing, beautiful subject matter, beautiful songs, beautifully produced. A good, mellow album.
1 Fulcrum (instrumental)
2 See Me Through
3 Beyond The Call (instrumental)
4 Love Is A River
5 Sound Picture (instrumental)
6 It Ain’t Easy
7 Pause For Thought (instrumental)
9 The Headlands (instrumental)
10 On The Balcony
Steve Howe / lead vocals, electric, acoustic and steel guitars, keyboards, percussion, bass guitar
Jon Davison / vocal harmonies, bass guitar (2,4,6,8,10)
Dylan Howe / drums
Release Date: 31st July 2020
Catalogue No. 538608592
Gatefold digi sleeve with 12 page booklet with liner notes by Steve Howe & lyrics
LP – Catalogue Number – 538608601
180gm Black vinyl in Gatefold sleeve with liner notes by Steve Howe & lyrics
Website – https://stevehowe.com/