(All Album Reviews by daddysangbassdude)
Just so y'all know, I was prepared NOT to like this CD when I saw it in the music store yesterday and to give y'all a warning NOT to purchase it. I spent a moment debating which CD I should put back in the bin and just walk away from in order to keep my CD purchasing budget down; this one or Gentle Giant's The Last Steps.
Instead, I walked out of the store having purchased both The Last Steps AND the CD I'm getting around to reviewing here.
I wondered more about whether I should've put Elements back when I walked out of the store, peeled off the plastic wrap and opened up the cover to find that Steve Howe handled lead vocals. And I looked at the head-shot photos of the band members (Howe on his vast array of stringed instruments both electronic and acoustic ... and vocals; son Virgil Howe on keys and harmony vocals; Gilad Atzmon on saxes, clarinet and flute; Derrick Taylor on bass; and another Howe - Dylan - on drums) and the pictures looked like something you might find on a less-than-perfect driver's license photo, and I wondered, "How good a quality could this CD be?"
In the case of Elements, after putting it through the initial listen, I'm glad I kept it.
This is Steve Howe stretching out beyond even the endless boundaries of Yes - even though it has Roger Dean artwork on the cover - and making music that he alone wants to make, along with some fine musicians. There are some more mainstream moments here and there, but not nearly enough to ruin anything. For the most part, it's Steve exploring the "elements" that have brought him where he is today as one of the most respected guitarists in rock music history, and showing where he could spend so much more time dabbling in the future, blending progressive rock, some straight rock, some blues, and some very good jazz.
Howe sings on only three out of the 16 songs - "Across The Cobblestone," "Where I Belong," and "Load Off My Mind." And when he sings on these songs, his voice (not his greatest instrument by far) somehow fits.
Otherwise, it's instrumental music of varying styles with some playing that at times might make you wonder, "Was that REALLY Steve Howe on guitar?" Simply because he hasn't quite rocked quite like this before, and I certainly don't recall him "jazzing it up" in such a straight-on manner before. And there are classic Howe solo touches, as on the closing tune "A Drop In The Ocean" that should remain timeless.
Virgil and Dylan are solid on their respective instruments, as is Taylor. Atzmon is a pleasure to listen to on woodwinds and flute. "Pacific Haze" is a particularly standout jazz piece between everyone involved. And if you want good blues guitar and rhythm, check out "Inside Out Muse."
Yeah, I was honestly prepared to slam this CD right after I bought it. Maybe the poor reviews I've seen for Howe's prior solo release Skyline influenced me that way. But this has instead turned into quite a nice surprise.