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Rick Wakeman

Two Sides of Yes, Vol. 2

Review by Gary Hill

I've read where people have been disappointed by this album because it was not full Yes versions of these songs. All I have to say is, if you want the original version, buy the original disc. What you get here are Rick Wakeman's reconstructions of the songs. There is certainly no mistaking these as the original performances, nor does Wakeman try to simply reproduce those songs. Instead, he reconstructs and rearranges the music into pieces that are both familiar and fresh and new. Wakeman is only accompanied on this album by Tony Fernandez on drums. And even, then two of the songs, the opening "Awaken" and "Heart of the Sunrise" are performed "classical" style with just piano. The rest are full keyboard arrangements. While these songs will without question never replace the original, hearing these reworkings gives one a new understanding of the songs. More importantly than that, though, it's a very entertaining disc to just sit back and enjoy. It would really be hard for me to pick a favorite here because I like all the songs for different reasons and in different ways. While I wouldn't recommend this disc for the casual Yes fan, I think that even casual Wakeman fans would appreciate it. I can tell you that this Yes fanatic does.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Awaken
Opening at first with the dramatic mid-section keyboard solo of the piece played on piano, this cut moves through that for a time, then cutting to the introductory portion. Here Wakeman carries the main theme forward, then works through a moving piano recreation of many of the segments of the piece in what resembles a classical piano arrangement. It's interesting to see what he does with the varying melodies of the track, at times playing the vocal line, at others taking on parts that were originally performed by other instruments. In some ways this stripped down format enhances the beauty of the original piece. This is a powerful roughly nine-minute solo rendition of a very potent Yes epic. It does a great job of setting the tone for the entire disc.
Siberian Khatru
Here Wakeman puts in a full electronic keyboard (the only other instrumentation being percussion) powerhouse arrangement of what is one of my all-time favorite Yes songs. While I do find myself occasionally missing the guitar on this one (a nearly 13 minute epic treatment), it is always interesting to hear a familiar song reworked in a new way. The original keyboard elements certainly have plenty of room here to breath and be reworked, and there are some exceptionally powerful moments. There is a synthesizer solo here that is just plain awesome! It's a soaring instrumental powerhouse that at times will make you think it's guitar. Throughout Wakeman manages to capture a lot of the power and glory of the original group rendition of this number. You'll fine elements here that are familiar, but still others that are not - but you won't find yourself bored. This is without question one of the high points of the disc.
Madrigal
Wakeman's take on this Tormato cut is a synthesizer heavy arrangement that works quite well. Lost is some of the emotional power of the original, but in many ways this one is nearly equal to that song. Again, Wakeman's keys here are only accompanied by Tony Fernandez' percussion, but there are times you'll swear you hear guitar.
Starship Trooper
This is interesting because it's a Yes song whose original version did not feature Wakeman, but instead Tony Kaye. Granted, with as many tours as Wakeman has done with Yes, I'm sure he's played it literally thousands upon thousands of times, and has worked out his own arrangements. It's kind of fascinating to hear the more synthesizer heavy take that Wakeman presents here rather than the organ dominated version that was originally recorded. Much of this cut is also reworked in a way that is quite consistent with the bulk of the music from Wakeman's solo career. I'd have to say that some of the strongest moments of the cut are when the keys are mimicking the vocal lines from the song. The later "Wurm" jam in the cut features some killer synth work, too. Those familiar with Yes' live work will certainly feel they're at home with this segment. Were it not for this closing movement, one that contains some of the most powerful music on the disc, this one wouldn't be up to a par with the rest of the album. Wakeman's fiery work here definitely saves this one from mediocrity and breaths some serious life into this part of the disc.
Heart of the Sunrise
Wakeman opens this strictly on piano, but interestingly, at least for a while, eschews his opening piano line from the Yes version. This shows up a bit later as he works and reworks the musical themes. This one comes across as the one of the most "different" takes on show here. It definitely comes into its right as the piano based verse segment takes it. Then Wakeman puts in some of the most evocative work on the whole CD. This one gets incredibly powerful and is another standout cut.
Going For the One
Wow, this one comes in with the most unusual textures of the whole album, feeling almost like a honky tonk or ragtime sort of number. Still, when the verse segment hits it becomes readily recognizable for what it is. This is an unusual one that has it's moments. It's also a heck of a twist on the original format. This is more like some of the more playful of Wakeman's solo career. Wakeman's keys turn a bit Crimsonian at points on this one. Certainly the most powerful points on this one are the later "soaring" section of the track in which Wakeman here creates awesome waves of synthesizer. The outro is especially effective and makes this a great disc closer.
 
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