Steve Howe – Yes, Asia, guitar legend… no further introduction needed or offered.
According to the press release Love Is is his “first solo album since the all-instrumental Time in 2011”, although in the interim period there have been two of his Homebrew project releases, New Frontier from The Steve Howe Trio, an Asia album and a couple of studio releases from the other band 🙂
For Love Is Steve is joined by son Dylan on drums, along with current Yes vocalist Jon Davison, who also plays bass on the tracks he sings on. All other instrumentation is performed by Mr Howe. From the very opening few bars there is very little doubt that this is Steve Howe. Melodic multi-layered guitars, delivered in his inimitable way. One of the first things to strike home is the attention to detail within the guitar tones and textures and you can imagine the time and thought gone into selecting the right guitar, with the right effects to achieve the desired musical tapestry for each of the layers.
Steve Howe’s previous solo album, Time, which saw him engaging with a small orchestral ensemble in a collection of gentle, classically inspired tunes with the material, penned by Howe and Paul K Joyce, Virgil Howe, Paul Sutin, along with reworkings of pieces from Vivaldi, Villa-Lobos and JS Bach. In contrast Love Is is a more contemporary offering and on this album Steve Howe’s mastery of the guitar is brought fully to the fore, with the rhythm section and underlying instrumentation more a blank canvas for his vibrant guitar artistry.
All of which are readily to be found on the album’s title track Love Is A River. An immediately infectious melody is introduced, quickly followed by subtle guitar timbers, a keyboard layering and then sweet harmonies. There’s even a mandolin for good measure. At this point it would be oh so easy to continue with this formula, embellishing and curtailing as the track develops, however less than a minute in and the introduction of 12 string guitar changes the mood completely. The pace is slower, the mood is darker and more sombre as we move into the vocal section.
With vocalist Jon Davison onboard it may come as surprise that Steve Howe tackles the melody and Jon Davison the harmonies. Always an integral part of the Yes vocal harmonies, however Steve is not noted for his lead vocals. Again much thought must have gone into vocal melody as Steve Howe delivers the main line with warm surety and with the introduction of Davison’s “answering” vocals and harmonies bring it all nicely together. Comparisons to both Yes and Asia are inevitable, although Love Is A River is not a track you would expect to hear on either band’s output.
As a side note on Love Is A River, initially Steve Howe played all the bass across the album, however it was later agreed that Jon Davison would play the bass parts on the songs he appeared on. A shrewd move and Jon’s busy bass work is certainly worthy of attention during the uptempo instrumental breaks.
Across the ten tracks that constitute Love Is, half feature vocals. The first of these, the spritely uptempo See Me Through, which to my ears shares a distant DNA with My White Bicycle, is a catchy number, performed vocally by Steve and John and stays in the cererbral regions well after the album has finished. A similar vocal formula remains for It Ain’t Easy, a track full of country rock swagger, whereas Imagination, sees Steve’s voice more exposed during the verses. The lyrics are rather more intoned, than sang. Well Mark Knopfler has got away with it for years…
The last of vocal tracks is On The Balcony. I freely admit when listening to the album for the first time, I initially assumed my iPod had shuffled on to another album? A brief drum fill introduces the heaviest and possibly most intricate track on the album. Killer riff from Mr Howe, augmented by Dylan’s busy drumming. It’s fairly short lived however and a more chugging rhythm is employed during the singing. The one vocal track on the album that would have been interesting to see where an instrumental approach might have taken it. Love that riff!
So to the instrumentals. In his interview for TPA, Steve comments about his passion of the guitar: “The thing I like to do is to dabble with the whole family of guitars.” adding “…I’ve kept endorsing my interest and enjoyment for the guitarists who have gone before me. I’m just a part of that guitar legacy, I guess.”
Fulcrum opens in very Yes-like fashion, but I couldn’t help pondering, as the track unfolded, whether or not Peter Green and Hank Marvin might have been guitarists that had touched him along the way. Regardless Fulcrum is a musical collage of the wonderful Howe traits that listeners to Yes music will recognise and enjoy. Beyond The Call is a slow burning, more laid back affair with acoustic guitar and sweetly played electric guitar. A tune I could well have imagined hearing on a Mike Oldfield album. Sound Picture on the other hand opens in undeniable Steve Howe fashion, before a more steady rhythm is employed to carry the main theme, interspersed with some nifty, off-kilter passages.
Pause For Thought, does exactly that, an exquisite atmospheric track, which ebbs and flows, and also a prime example, emphasizing the point made earlier, regarding the selection of sound effects – the main theme employing a sitar sound – just one example in this piece. The last of the instrumental tracks, a bit of foot stomper, features Steve Howe’s signature lap steel style…
If I was to honest my initial reaction to the album was that it was enjoyably pleasant, something that I might come back to from time to time, but overall didn’t really go much deeper. Subsequent listening has added the detail, something always missing on the first few sessions, revealing an unequivocally Steve Howe album of engaging scope and quality. I suppose, like many, I might have anticipated an album reminiscent of Steve Howe in Yes, rather than the more personalised Steve Howe of Love Is.
[You can read Geoff Ford’s interview with Steve Howe HERE on TPA.]
01. Fulcrum (4:27)
02. See Me Through (4:27)
03. Beyond The Call (4:51)
04. Love Is A River (5:56)
05. Sound Picture (3:37)
06. It Ain’t Easy (4:25)
07. Pause For Thought (3:40)
08. Imagination (3:55)
09. The Headlands (3:14)
10. On The Balcony (5:00)
Total Time – 43:32
Steve Howe – Electric, Acoustic, Steel & Bass Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Jon Davison – Bass, Vocal Harmonies (2,4,6,8 & 10)
Dylan Howe – Drums
Record Label: BMG Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 31st July 2020