Love is – Steve Howe
Well 2020 is certainly not a very good year and there seems to be a lack of anything really new or good coming out that is tempting my taste buds right now, so much that I have had to resort to buying Steve Howe’s latest album Love Is. I have to confess I have not brought anything from Howe’s solo career for Donkey’s years and I would very much have to go back Donkey’s years to when even Yes really spoke to me.
Things have got that bad this year that it’s even got to the point of pre-ordering an album before its release date is becoming a waste of space. For example, I brought this album out of desperation whilst waiting for the latest Tiger Moth Tales album to arrive which is an album that was released on the first of this month and I pre-ordered on the 13th of July and right now it’s the 10th of August and it still has not arrived. By the time I get to review the album his next album might be out at this rate 😁
I have spent much of 2020 twiddling my thumbs with what little as came out of it in the music department so far and I only happened to stumble upon this new release of Howe’s by watching Darren Lock on the Tube giving one of his most boring reviews ever and not really telling you anything about the album apart from it was OK!. It intrigued me enough to investigate it and seek out a few tracks from the new album on the Tube I could listen to, having heard the first 3 or 4 tracks out of the 10 I immediately popped over to Amazon UK and purchased it. It also came with a free digital download so I could listen to the album before CD arrived the next day.
Like I mentioned it’s been a while since I last brought a Steve Howe album and his live album from 1999 Pulling Strings was the last one I brought which really is an outstanding album with a really GREAT! live recording. I did, however, buy both Beginnings and The Steve Howe Album upon their release back in the ’70s and still consider both of those studio albums as his personal best. Ever since I heard Steve Howe on The Yes Album back in 1971 he has always been my personal favourite guitarist and I have always admired him for his versatility. As far as prog rock goes, I personally don’t think you will ever come across another guitarist like him.
Almost 50 years have passed since those golden days of the ’70s and these days Howe still continues to play with Yes and has a few other side projects going on besides such as Homebrew and his own jazz trio to which I have heard snippets of here and there.
His latest album Love Is is the first solo album release we have seen from him since Time back in 2011. Many of his solo albums I have heard in the past were down to my older brother buying them though I never found them interesting enough to go out and buy them. Like I mentioned I did buy this album out of desperation and here in my review, I shall tell you how it all turned out. But before I do let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual.
The Packaging & Artwork…
The CD comes in a cardboard gloss printed 2-panel Gatefold DigiSleeve and it’s one of those where you can retrieve both the CD and booklet from the inside or outside of the case because they have not sealed any of the slipcase pockets. It comes with a 12-page booklet that contains the linear credit and production notes, lyrics, and a bit of informative information about the album. Overall, it’s quite a tidy and nice presentable package and I purchased my copy from Amazon UK for £11.49 which is good value.
The design and layout of the album were put together by Douglas & Glen Gottlieb otherwise known as the Gottlieb Brothers. The actual cover artwork itself is made up of photos taken by Steve Howe and it’s perhaps how he himself visualized the album title and the material he wrote for it. I think he has very much captured the right vision here and it’s almost like a throwback to the ’60s but not in a psychedelic way but in more of a peaceful and tranquil way. You could say he’s natured and nurtured the way love is.
The Album In Review…
Steve Howe’s 14th studio album Love Is was released on the 31st of July 2020. The album contains 10 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 43 minutes, 20 seconds which is a very comfortable playing time and easy enough to take in and digest. The album’s material is made up of 5 vocal & 5 instrumental tracks and they have been spread evenly along the albums playing time.
Some of the material for the album was recorded at Langley Studios which is Howe’s own recording studio that he set up in the residential farmhouse where the Yes worked on the material for The Yes Album back in 1971 to which is on Langley Farm in Devon, England that Howe very much went onto buy. Most of the album was recorded, mixed, and mastered at another residential studio in another part of the English countryside situated in West Sussex known as the Curtis Schwartz Studio.
Curtis Schwartz Studio
Curtis Schwartz is an American composer, producer, sound engineer, and multi-instrumentalist and he set up the residential studio back in 1984. His own production work varies across a wide range of musical genres and musical interests from Hip-hop, Rock, Dance, Pop, Jazz, and Classical. The studio itself features a Steinway D Concert Grand Piano which came from Elton John’s home in Los Angeles.
Many other artists have recorded their albums at the studio such as the likes of Siouxsie & The Banshees, Snowy White & The White Flames, Steve Harley, Jimmy Ruffin, Cutting Crew, Go West, Salena Jones, and Nine Below Zero to name a few. The drummer Carl Palmer also reckoned that it was “The best f***ing drum sound I’ve ever had” and that’s just one of the quotes you will find on the studio’s website.
Most of the instrumentation and vocals along the album was done by Howe himself and was written produced and engineered by himself. He does, however, have his son Dylan Howe playing drums on all tracks and current Yes vocalist Jon Davidson contributing bass guitar to five of the tracks along with a few vocal harmonies. There are no solo guitar instrumental tracks along the course of the album which is perhaps unusual but nevertheless, I do feel the written material is strong enough to hold up and is still very much worthy of a CLAP 😊 so to speak.
Musicians & Credits…
All tracks Written, Engineered & Produced by Steve Howe. Recorded at Langley Studios Devon UK, and Schwartz Sound Ardingly UK. Further Engineering & Mixing by Curtis Schwartz at Schwartz Studio. Mastering by Simon Heyworth at SAM Chagford UK. Artwork Cover photos Steve Howe. CD Package & Design by Gottlieb Brothers.
Steve Howe: Lead Vocals – Electric, Acoustic & Steel Guitars – Bass Guitar (tracks: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9) – Percussion.
Jon Davison: Bass Guitar (tracks: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10) – Harmony Vocals.
Dylan Howe: Drums.
The Album Tracks In Review…
In the booklet, Howe has written a short essay detailing and describing his own input into the material upon the album. He sees it as an attempt to work in the same way as an artist who paints and draws and details all the colours and textures and how it relates to how his instruments have stolen many years, hours, minutes and seconds over the past half of century. I suppose you could say in a way it’s a bit like the title of one of his songs from his debut album Beginnings many years ago “Pleasure Stole The Night“. However, it runs a bit deeper than that and reflects upon the others who are around him and the steps they have taken through a life lived together and apart.
You could say that the album’s title Love Is covers a lot of ground and having listened to it a good few times you can certainly hear that it’s musical and lyrical presentation reflects upon the finer ingredients and varieties of spices that make up a pleasant journey through life. So, lets now take a deeper look into the album as I take you through each track upon the album.
Track 1. Fulcrum.
The album gets off to a very promising start with the first of the instrumental tracks on the album and its title reflects on a point or a thing that plays a central or essential role in an activity, event, or situation. The one thing you will always get with Steve Howe is plenty of variety and that reflects on the many stringed instruments he plays he has at hand in his collection. As with most of his solo albums he also gives you a chart in the booklet detailing all the instruments he used on every track, and on this particular track, he has made excellent use of his Gibson Les Paul Junior, Steinberger GM4T, Martin MC38 SH (signature model) and a Rickenbacker 4001 Bass.
The only other person who accompanies him on all five instrumental tracks along the album is his son Dylan on drums and it’s obvious that Howe has put a lot of thought into both the composition and arrangement side of things on every track on this album without going over the top. In many ways, he’s created the perfect balance of colours and textures with how he has layered everything so well. The other thing you will never be short of with Howe is progression and he has bags of it when it comes to any musical genre and is a virtuoso on the guitar.
“Fulcrum” is a really GORGEOUS! piece of work that crosses styles of country, jazz and melancholy that all blend and meld in with each other perfectly and is executed with precision, finesse and a jolly good dosing of diversity. You will hear some of his familiar Chet Atkins influences with his picking style and a slight touch of Duane Eddy with the plucky vibe, you could say that pleasure has very much stolen the night listening to this BEAUTY! and it’s very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!
Track 2. See Me Through.
The first of the vocal tracks on the album has quite a happy and uplifting bounce about it and runs along at quite a hurried pace. The lyrical side of things is pertaining to a prayer asking God for the strength to carry on sort of thing and are written in a way to show that God exists by the things around you that science cannot really explain or prove. I quite like how he’s gone about the lyrics here though I have to confess I am not a believer in God or Science for that matter. But I have nothing against anyone’s beliefs and they could believe in fairies for all I care. But for me personally, life is what you make it and it’s hard enough getting on with it without wasting time searching for answers to life and the universe.
The vocal side of things is handled by both Steve Howe and Jon Davison (who also plays bass on all the vocal tracks) and their voices work very well in unison with one another throughout the track. Howe as never really been much of a singer and he perhaps has a voice one would have to acquire a taste for to even accept him as a singer. It is something you have to get used too more than anything else and it’s never been his strong point. However, I do feel he has got better in his ripe old age and his voice perhaps works better on this album more than anything he has done in the past.
This is the only track on the album that Howe uses his beloved Gibson ES175D along with a Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul Junior, and a Martin SOM 45. Overall, “See Me Through” is quite a catchy little number and is a very good well-written song that has GREAT! pace to run it very well through the mill and enjoy. I also think the lyrical content is very well written too.
Track 3. Beyond the Call.
This next instrumental piece is my personal favourite track on the album and it’s quite a THEMATIC! piece that utilises both acoustic and electric guitars very well. It’s perhaps got a touch of Mike Oldfield about it with the fuzz textures and on this particular track, he uses his Steinberger GM4T along with his Martin SOM 45 and Rickenbacker 4001 Bass.
There is plenty of progression and some nice transitional changes along its path as you will hear by listening to it on Youtube posted by the record company. His son Dylan does quite an outstanding job on the military role section and it really is a GREAT! piece of work and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!
Track 4. Love Is A River.
The albums self-titled track which has been slightly extended by a river which very much pertains to how both life and love can flow when all is well and how you find your way down its stream very much reflects upon the lyrical content that this fine song pertains too. This is very much the standout song on the album and it’s also the longest track on the album though there are no long tracks on this album at all and Howe has very much very well crammed all the progression, diversity and the quintessential side things in just under 6 minutes here. It’s also the most Yes like track on the album too.
On this song, Howe’s vocals do take the lead role and are backed up by some fine harmonies by Davison and you can hear how well his voice has matured over all these years and it works very well on a song like this. This is one of the 3 tracks on the album that uses his Fender Steel and it’s also accompanied by his Gibson Les Paul Junior and a couple of acoustic guitars which are a Martin J12-65M and Martin SOM 45. He also plays a Gibson F4 Mandolin and it’s a very well-crafted song and a very strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!
Track 5. Sound Picture.
Another quite THEMATIC! instrumental piece that is perhaps a bit of an unusual road for Howe to go down but he makes it work to his particular style very well indeed. Here he is blending bluesy and jazzy vibes with other textures and going down the odd prog avenue with the diversity the piece displays. He really gets to fly on this one too and from here onwards it’s an all-electric affair and on this particular track he’s using his Fender Stratocaster with a Gibson Country Western and his Rickenbacker 4001 Bass. Overall, it’s another GREAT! piece of work done by him and his son on the drums.
Track 6. It Ain’t Easy.
It’s time for another song and “It Ain’t Easy” is quite a catchy little number that runs along at a steady mid-tempo pace. It could even be seen as the single from the album with its raunchy feel and it crosses styles between the country blues and rock. Howe is playing on his Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul Junior, and Line 6 James Tyler ’58. The lyrical subject matter is based around life in general with growing and learning and once again Davison’s harmonies running more or less alongside Howe’s but Howe’s voice is more upfront. It’s another well-written song and a GREAT! job by all has been done here for sure.
Track 7. Pause for Thought.
The one thing about the instrumental tracks along the album is that they tend to have their own way of singing to you and this is another very well worked out instrumental piece that contains much of Howe’s GREAT! finger work and precision on the guitar. It sounds like they have keyboards on this one even sounds like he’s playing an acoustic guitar and its amazing what FX you can get these days.
The synth sounds are coming from his Line 6 Variax + Boss GP10 Synth Setting 51 & 54 and he uses quite an array of guitars on this one and he’s dragged out his Fender Telecaster along with his Fender Steel, Gibson Les Paul Junior, Gibson F4 Mandolin and Rickenbacker 4001 Bass. Overall, “Pause for Thought” is another truly GREAT! instrumental stand out track on the album and another fine piece I would put in contention for the albums TOP SPOT!
Track 8. Imagination.
This next song pertains to the beautiful world of imagination and opens up the mind of lovers looking into it through telescopic vision to get the bigger picture and understanding so to speak. Something along those lines anyway. He plays his Steinberger GM4T and various other guitars on this track and it sparkles with some of his familiar lead runs along its journey. Interestingly enough his vocals on this track are more reminiscent of how he sang on his earlier albums and you will hear those tonal qualities in his voice unlike the tracks on the rest of the album. Jon Davison’s harmonies only play a partial role in the chorus sections and it’s perhaps not the best of the vocal songs on the album but it has some pleasantries.
Track 9. The Headlands.
The final of the instrumental tracks on the album is another lovely piece of work where Howe utilises his Fender Steel guitar to sing and the other guitars on this track are his Fender Stratocaster and Rickenbacker 4001 Bass. This actually the shortest track on the album but a very TASTY! job has been done on it. A headland is a coastal landform characterised by high, breaking waves, rocky shores, intense erosion, and steep sea cliffs and Howe is flying over it all on this one and it’s another really GREAT album track and another contender for the albums TOP SPOT!
Track 10. On the Balcony.
Howe ROCKS! things up a bit for the final song on the album and utilises his Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul Junior and Line 6 James Tyler ’58 very well. Once again Howe’s voice handles the lead vocals very well and Davison’s bass and harmonies lend good support and it gives his son Dylan a chance to pound the drums that bit harder. It rounds off the album very well and is another fine song.
To sum up, the new solo album Love Is by Steve Howe. I could perhaps sum it up in one word and say it’s LOVELY! Because it really is a very satisfying album that takes you on a pleasurable ride throughout its entirety. I think it’s a very well balanced album to with how the instrumental and vocal tracks have been placed to run in adjacent order one after another and it works very well that way for it. It really is an album that you can just stick on and enjoy from start to finish.
However, if you are looking for some of his more adventurous classics such as “Beginnings“. “Ram“. “Pennants“. “Look Over Your Shoulder” and “All’s A Chord” from his first two albums, for example, you will not find anything that quite measures up to that calibre here. But nevertheless, this album still has enough in the tank to deliver some very well executed and precision skill on the guitar despite it running more along the lines of a contemporary popular or easy-going album and there is also still bags of progression that has been thrown into the pot. My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Fulcrum“. “Beyond the Call“. “Love Is a River“. “Pause For Thought” and “The Headlands“.
In conclusion, Love Is by Steve Howe may not have enough heat to set the world on fire but is a very comfortable album to sit with, enjoy and get some satisfactory pleasure from. I do also feel that it’s more than just a guitar album with how well some of the songs along the album have been very well written. Although as a selling point it’s perhaps got more chance of reaching Howe’s audience rather than stretching outside of those boundaries bringing in new listeners.
Is it a must for Steve Howe and Yes fans alike? Personally, I would say YES! because it is one of his stronger albums and contains quite a strong body of work. It’s been very well produced and both the writing and arrangement has been very well worked out. There is nothing remotely bad on the album and I’ve played the album a good 20 times now and am still enjoying it and it represents GREAT! value for the buck.
Given the fact that Steve Howe is now 73 years old. I rather think he’s come up TRUMPS! here and it still shows he is very well capable of still delivering the goods. Love Is I personally feel is an album that is not over the top and is very well balanced to give one some pleasurable moments and satisfaction. Howe’s skill on the guitar is also still very evident and I have always loved his versatility and diversity and it still shines here.
Love Is A River Finding Its Way…
The album tracklisting is as follows:
01. Fulcrum. 4:26.
02. See Me Through. 4:26.
03. Beyond the Call. 4:50.
04. Love Is a River. 5:54.
05. Sound Picture. 3:26.
06. It Ain’t Easy. 4:24.
07. Pause for Thought. 3:39.
08. Imagination. 3:54.
09. The Headlands. 3:12.
10. On the Balcony. 4:59.
2 thoughts on “Lee Speaks About Music… #159”
Unlike you I have never bought a Steve Howe solo album. I remember listening to a live solo album of him with some YES-standards on it and I remember him as a terrible singer and his singing let me stop the record very soon. However you are so right, that he is one of a kind on the guitar and I agree, that nobody comes close to him in the progressive rock-genre. The way he mixes Jazz, Fingerpicking, Rock and Classical is so unique and I have never heard anybody, who sounds like him.
I have checked “See me through” and “Beyond the call” on Youtube. The first one is a nicely arranged instrumental, a bit too long in my opinion, but with a remarkable theme. His son is a amazing drummer and the contrast of the acoustic and electric guitars works well. But I like “Beyond the call” more because of its uplifting and fresh character and the singing is much better than I have expected. All in all the album sounds more interesting and fresh than the last four YES-albums.
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It’s very much a different beast to a Yes album and perhaps displays a lot more versatility and I honestly could not play any of the last two albums Yes have made but then again I would really have to go back as far as Relayer for Yes to speak to me in a solid way. Howe’s vocals have never been his strong point unlike Chris Squire and it’s a shame that Squire never made any more solo albums. His voice on this album I do feel is more accessible especially in comparison to when he first kicked off his solo career with Beginnings. You do have to get accustomed to his voice and I could say the same thing about Richard Thomson back then too. However, Thompson’s voice has really excelled over the years.
I remember when I first brought Beginnings back in 1975 and the track “Will o’ the Wisp” sounded very much like Thompson’s singing back then. it was that close that I phoned my mate up who was a Thomson fan and he lived about 10 miles away and I played a trick on him and asked him if he’s heard the latest Thompson album and he said he was not aware of any new album. So I played him a bit of “Will o’ the Wisp” over the phone and he quickly shot out of his house and caught a bus and came to mine to hear the album. It was pretty much a dirty trick to play on him but I played him the Howe album and he ended up buying it himself.
There is some excellent material on the first two albums Howe made and in my opinion, they are worth getting despite his voice. Instrumental tracks such as “Ram”. Surface Tention”. “Beginnings” and “Pennants” are superb. The vocal track on his second album All’s A Chord” is an absolute classic in my opinion. This new album of his is a really nice album and is a very satisfying one to listen too.
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