Monday, 28 July 2014

CRR (Dot EU) – New Music from Classic Rock Bands
Spotlight: Yes – Heaven And Earth (2014 Frontiers Records)

I must admit right off the bat, that I really did not expect Yes to still be an active recording and touring band, in the present year; 2014. I remember telling my wife, who was my then girlfriend after seeing Yes perform supporting their studio album Talk (1994), that I suspected that was the end for Yes. Wasn't because they were not good anymore. By this time, members have gone and some have even returned to later on leave again. All in all, a fantastic run for those involved should those in their Yes business shirts have decided it was time to turn the Yes machine off. Lucky for all of us that that didn't happen. Today I find it totally amazing, and am forever grateful that Yes is still here. A progressive rock band from the late 1960's that I labeled 'my favorite rock band' back when I was in Catholic grade school, is still relevant. And to this day, continuing to evolve, and explore the seemingly infinite musical horizons that is what I and millions of others I'm sure, understand to be YES.

For the record, I got on the Yes band wagon around the time their first official live release, 'Yes Songs', and the groups sixth studio album, 'Tales From Topographic Oceans' was still regarded as new at the local Jersey Shore record shops I hung out in.
Yes' fourth album, 'Fragile', which contained their hit song 'Roundabout', is what probably caught my attention at first. Yes – nowadays considered to be one of the main pillars that hold up the prog-rock hall of fame. Add, The Yes Album (1971), Close To The Edge (1972), and the bands first official live release 'Yes Songs', a 3 record set album wrapped in the coolest Roger Dean artwork you ever want to see. Live versions of 'Yours Is No Disgrace', and 'Starship Troopers' make for a PERFECT album side, that was heard at every cool party I attended. Especially if I had anything to do with picking out some of the music.

Now decades later, Yes is still a leading force within the modern day progressive rock world. For in the year 2014, a new batch of songs with the official Yes stamp has hit the general public. With that the album introduces a new main vocalist, 43 year old; Jon Davison. The new Yes release entitled, 'Heaven & Earth', has just hit the streets. Is guaranteed to not disappoint anyone who appreciates a serious musical groups ever changing definition of itself. As one who reviews music in the pop culture world, I suggest clearing the mind of any and all Yes History, and just listen to what these find bunch of professional musicians (the band_behind the scenes folks) whipped up for us. My opinion might persuade, entertain and inform, but it's your actions that count the most. For the record, I will base my review on what I hear, and what not the bands past achievements are. You buying the new studio album (whatever format you the consumer prefers), and supporting the band by perhaps taking in a live performance, is a part of supporting what the men that make up Yes are doing today. It's been fun doing my part throughout the decades seeing Yes in concert many times. Collecting their music. Always worth whatever money and time spent on them. My experience anyway. So lets see what we have here.

Admitting a loyalty to Yes is not evidence of being labeled a Yes fanatic incapable of giving a bad review. I am highly capable of saying a song sucks through a used tea bag, if that was the case. Luckily for yours truly, that is not the position I'm in with Yes' new CD / album 'Heaven & Earth'. Brilliantly produced by legendary Roy Thomas Baker. Mixed by ex-Yes alumni Billy Sherwood. Seven songs off 'Heaven & Earth' giving writing credit in part or full to newest member, Jon Davison. His voice like that of the previous Yes main vocalist Benoît David. Not so much Trevor Horn sounding, and the same alto tenor style as with original member / main vocalist Jon Anderson. Compliments the other current band members backing vocals, should you ask me. Throughout all their history, Yes has always had GREAT vocals / harmonizing. Still does !! 

What I'll predict as a new Yes greatest hit, 'Believe Again', kicks off the newest Yes offering. It's melody is contagious. What people call ear-worm material. Something that sticks in your brain and won't let go. And note...every instrument heard loud and clear. No small drums sound present. By the time 'Believe Again' is over, one realizes that even with it being a Steve Howe / Jon Davison written song, that it's a group effort presenting it. Geoff Downes is incredible on it as he is throughout the album. Also, the solid rhythm section of Alan White, and original Yes band member / co-founder Chris Squire. Personally loving the instrumental moments, one of the things that makes this song so good to me is the Yes ear candy found between the three and six minute mark. Just turn up the volume and you'll find out what I mean. Downes is so in the prog groove !! In comparison, I believe the song ranks up there with the Yes classic, 'And You And I'. Give 'Believe Again' more then one listen, and I'm sure you'll agree with me.

Two songs with writing credits that contain the only band member to have appeared on every Yes studio album, and official release, Mr Chris Squire. The CDs second track, is a upbeat tune where Chris gets co writing credits called, 'The Game'. Reminds me some of the Trevor Rabin era in previous Yes music. Seeing how Mr. Squire had a big involvement with that era, it's cool hearing again, even if only for a moment. “The Game” could remind one of a pop song. I like the musical introduction. Sounds like a completely different number once it kicks in. 'The Game' is very catchy, likable, and consistent with a positive over all feeling to it.

The first song I gave a repeated play to on my first listen of 'Heaven And Earth' was the third track entitled, 'Step Beyond'. Another Howe / Davison penned number, it's a platform that brings out the best of rest of the band. Another new greatest my opinion. And besides the musicianship, the vocals and harmonies have been to this point, and will remain throughout the CD, to be simply wonderful. Turn this song up !!

To the fourth track, a number called, 'To Ascend', to the seventh track, a song called, 'It Was All We Knew', one finds with each song played, a new appreciation each time they are heard.
On 'Heaven & Earth' ends up what I believe to be a new Yes masterpiece, penned by Jon Davison and Geoff Downes, called 'Subway Walls'. Last track on the CD. A cool rocker, and an over all very groovy song. Steve Howe stands out, as do the vocals, and the instrumental moments (the music heard in-between the vocals_words). Every component complimenting the other. A tad Asia sounding which is not surprising since half of that original band is included in this roaster. It's a good thing, as is the song. A solid modern day prog rocker that classic rock bands still out there performing, should after hearing, aspire to rise themselves to new levels. Not as a personal achievement or in a stand out way, but as part of a team. That is what I think makes this new Yes that good. Roy Thomas Baker knew who he was working with, and with as well as giving direction, let each member do what they do best. The results is a new five man line-up acting as Yes, recording as Yes, and sounding like Yes. Must be Yes. Notes From The damned. 

Rating: Using the one to five star rating system, I rate Yes – Heaven & Earth – FIVE STARS !! Solid in every way. Now I can compare it to past Yes achievements and, and frankly I'm not disappointed.  Music was rated on it's own merit. Three out of five guys in the band today, also played on 1974's Yes – Relayer album. One of my Yes favorite studio offerings. This is isn't Relayer...The Sequel. Before listening, remember to clear the mind, and enjoy the newest product of what is still...Yes.

Gary Brown
American Correspondent for Classic Rock Radio (Dot EU)

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