Saturday, October 21, 2006

REVIEW: Steve Howe - Natural Timbre

This album marks a bit of a turning point for me as an album reviewer (review-ey?, review-writer-type person?) Up to now I've either written about an album that I've had little to no emotional connection to and have given it a mediocre-ly decent review, or I've written about an album that is really close to my heart and have given it a much deserved high rating. The following review may be a bit of a challenge for me as it's an album that is really close to my heart, but I cannot justly give it a perfect score. Allow me to explain why.

When Steve Howe released his Natural Timbre album in 2001 it seemed to go by without much of a blip on the Prog Rock scene's radar. It was considered essentially just another release by Howe in these, the later days of his career. It seemed to flicker by without a hoot or holler. It barely sold anything. It was, at least in commercial terms, a flop. I find this to be a tragic occurrence indeed.

When I happened upon this album, it was in a used CD shop here in Toronto. I was in this store with my girlfriend and she was the one who first noticed it. The rare occurrence of finding an album by such Prog Rock giant that we've never heard before seemed to be justice enough to pick it up for ten bucks. And a worthy purchase it was. The first thing that should be noted of this album is that it is entirely acoustic. No electric amplified guitar is found anyway on the entire disc. This is a noteworthy fact considering that Howe is probably best known for his electric guitar pyrotechnics that can be found on epics like Awaken and such. The trick here is to not think typical Howe. It is not an album filled with his acoustic 'solo' pieces such as Clap or Mood for a Day. These are complex layered acoustic guitar pieces with the occasional solo guitar track sprinkled in for taste.

Using modern recording technology to it's fullest, Howe as created a full guitar ensemble by overdubbing himself many times on each track. What this means is that each track is layered with a plethora of guitars each providing a layer to what turns out to be a very dense pieces of music indeed. Not dense in the sense that they're hard to listen to, but in the sense of depth of sound.

The range of guitars that Howe plays include banjo, bass, dobro, mandolin, percussion, autoharp, twelve string guitar, koto, mandola, mandocello, Hawaiian Lap Steel guitar and of course the traditional six string acoustic and Spanish guitar. Any number of combinations of these guitars can be featured in the same song. Backed by his son Dylan Howe playing a perfect drum part as well as the occasional inclusion of Anna Palm on Violin, each track is a true treat.

The last few tracks are noteworthy because Howe has done acoustic renditions of some Yes classics. Your Move, To Be Over and the middle section Starship Trouper are all arranged in a beautiful way, featuring all the layers of acoustic guitar and even lead guitar parts playing the role of lead singers.

The hardest thing for me is not giving this album a perfect score. For me personally this is an amazing beautiful album. I love it more then most albums I own in my vast collection, but this is not true for most Prog Fans. It is not a traditional Prog album as it is completely acoustic, which alone may drive away some hardcore Howe fans. However if you want to hear this amazing Prog legend in a stripped down setting and want to hear one of his own personal favorite albums he's ever been a part of then you should check this out. What you might find is a truly gorgeous album filled to the brim with fantastic melodies and jaw-dropping musicianship. I highly recommend this to all Yes fans who want a laid back acoustic album with all the talent that is Steve Howe


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