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Steve Howe

Homebrew

Review by Gary Hill

This collection is a lot of literally “homebrewed” pieces by Steve Howe. These are creations from his home studio and generally this stuff eventually got released in on form or another. Sometimes that meant a different version on a solo album. Other times it was something that came out more or less the same on an album by one of the groups for which Howe has played (Yes, Asia, GTR, Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe). Some of these are quite good as originally presented here. There are some I like as much as the final versions. The thing is, even the ones that don’t seem as effective really offer a lot of insight into the songwriting process. They also give us a different perspective on the pieces.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Sketches in the Sun

Starting tentatively, I love the lush sound created by the multiple layers of sound on this. It’s intricate. It’s powerful and it’s intense. It’s also trademark Steve Howe.

Sharp on Attack
While this one feels like a bit more of a “rough draft” in terms of song structure, it has some interesting changes. It’s also quite dense in terms of layers of sound. Of course, it’s Steve Howe, so it has some great guitar work. There’s a dramatic mellower movement later that’s a nice bit of variety, too.
The Valley of Rock
Parts of this is made up of bouncy bluegrass inspired guitar playing. Other parts are more purely progressive rock. This is an intriguing piece of music with a lot of contrast and differing styles built into it. I like it a lot.
Georgia's Theme
Starting with really mellow music, this grows out into a cool melodic prog jam. The guitar soloing over the top ranges from mellower and intricate to harder rocking sounds. There’s sort of a false ending as the main section ends. Then a mellower motif, but still quite energetic comes in. It feels a bit like a mellow take on the kind of music The Ventures did to me.
Dorothy
Jazz is a valid reference point here. That’s because of a horn section. Some of that horn section seems to be synthesized, but there is also a real saxophone on the composition. This is a melodic cut that’s mid-tempo and quite effective. It’s one of the most “song-like” pieces here. The guitar soloing is gentle and quite pretty. We’re taken through a couple shifts and changes, but overall this is quite consistent.
Meadow Rag
Here we get some trademark Steve Howe bluegrass inspired jamming. It’s got a great vintage sound to the guitar tone.
At the Full Moon
A harder rocking tune, parts of this were reworked into the Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe sound “Brother of Mine.” This has vocals and is one of the most “complete” tracks. I like it a lot. It’s one of the highlights of the set. Although it’s definitely different than the final version, many of the same parts are heard here in one form or another. It’s got some nice changes, too.
Never Stop Learning
This one also has vocals, but they don’t work as well as the ones on the previous tune did. There is almost a punky kind of vibe to this rocker. This one includes the chorus of “Brother of Mine.”
Red and White
This one also got reworked for Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe (as “Birthright”). Although this is a bit rougher and less developed than the final cut, it’s pretty close in a lot of ways. That said, there is a bit of a punk or new wave vibe to this, too. The vocals here work pretty well.
More about You
Here we get another cut that got reworked (well, the chorus) for that same album (“I Wanna Learn”). This is an acoustic guitar based song as presented here. It’s sort of a folk rock tune, more or less. The vocals are fairly effective and I love the guitar soloing.
Rare Birds
This became “Vultures in the City.” That song was a bonus track from the ABWH album (actually it was an extra on a CD single to start off). It was also one of my favorite ABWH songs. The version here has an arrangement that feels sparse and desolate. That really works well for it. I prefer the other rendition, but this is quite cool.
Big Love
A harder rocking tune, this really has a bit of a 1960s psychedelic rock vibe to it. It does work out to a soaring kind of prog jam later, though.
Running in the Human Race
There is a bit of a blues vibe to this as it opens. It works out to more of a progressive rock sound as it continues. This isn’t a real standout, though.
Barren Land
The chorus to this gave birth the ABWH song “The Order of the Universe.” This is more of a new-wave meets prog tune, at least early. It shifts to a more fully realized progressive rock sound as it continues.
Against the Tide
This one feels a bit quirky and undeveloped. It’s just not one of my favorites. It has one of the most “demo-like” sounds.
Breakaway from It All
The sound here is also quite “demo-like.” That said, somehow this track works better than the previous one did. I like the bass that kind of runs around in the background. The whole piece has a cool psychedelic rock vibe to it. There is some cool jazzy jamming later in the cut, too.
For This Moment
Now, this cut is an early version of part of the “The Revealing Science of God” from Tales from Topographic Oceans album. I really like this a lot. Of course, that section is one of the more compelling ones from TFTO. This is a less developed and nuanced version, but otherwise it’s pretty similar to that section. There is some awesome guitar soloing on this thing.
 
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