[We start with a disclaimer: I have never met any of these gentlemen. However, earlier this year, under a very old birth name, I contributed backing vocals to a magnificent prog rock opera entitled Elinoire, by the German Prog band Flaming Row (I get out every now and again). Billy Sherwood and Tony Kaye also contributed to the project. That doesn't mean I will cut them any slack on the review. However, it does mean that I have earned a Close to the Edge of YES badge.]
I had a hard time with this one. I struggled with the concept of fairness and balance. The CIRCA CD arrived in the mail at the same time I was writing a fairly expansive review of Fly From Here by YES. As you can imagine, I was immersed in YES and any distraction that reminded me of YES was frowned upon.
I set the new CIRCA CD aside for a few days. I started spinning it on Sunday morning. I tossed it in Ms. Bunnywise’s Hello Kitty car while I ran errands. After that, I listened to it while packing up the studio. (We are moving to a new location in November.) By this morning I knew which songs I liked the most. I tossed it in the Ford F-150 — the final arbitrator. I took some time to read the lyrics.
Balance arrived on a repetitious horse. I discovered a song I enjoy so much I could play it like a kid- over and over on the record player, the 45 spinning and spinning while I dance. I grab the cooking spoon and sing like Billy Sherwood. I can’t see the thousands of fans, the stage lights are so bright; but I can hear them…and they are singing along with me….
“At the start of the climb, pictures flash before my eyes, Cast Away, crystalized…. As we crest, as we peak, All the forces are released, All of us alone, Cast Away, All of us alone, all of us cast away into the fires”
After that, I really didn’t care if this album sounded a lot like YES. As I’ve said before, there should be a whole genre for YES music called YES-PROG. And this album has YES influences running through it wide and deep. But that’s not all.
Billy Sherwood’s voice is closer to Peter Gabriel’s than to Jon Anderson and there is Genesis filtering into their arrangements, which is a very good thing..and there is also Camel swirling through…and Yoso probably isn’t very far away. As I researched the band members, lo and behold, the new drummer for the tour, Scott Connor once played in a Genesis tribute band. Lead guitarist Johnny Bruhns played in the YES tribute band. Billy Sherwood is a YES veteran as is Tony Kaye. How could this band NOT sound like YES?
I will not compare And So On to Fly From Here. CIRCA has been around for some time now. They’ve toured. They took a break and formed YOSO (Former YES & Toto band members) and toured. A couple of the members have changed, but the Sherwood/Kaye core of the band remains intact. This album is more like real life, it just grows on you. Yet there are also wary and wise words for the listener.
“Life’s Offering, another set of second chances. No more reservation, no more expectation; Life’s begun…No more contemplation, no more hesitation; Life’s begun -Life’s Offering, And So On, CIRCA
This is not a perfect album. Johnny Bruhns channels Steve Howe more than I care to hear; for the same reasons I raised a mild objection to David Benoit channeling Jon Anderson. It’s not fair to either artist.
Yet, there are moments when Johnny allows (or is allowed by producer Sherwood) himself to carve a different sound, like on the beginning of Half Way Home, the fourth track of nine on the album. He’s edgier, harsher than Howe and the change feels good.
The reverb was dialed up way too high for my liking. This tends to shroud the harmonies, pulling them back behind the song. Billy Sherwood’s voice is a lot like Peter Gabriel’s voice and dialing up the reverb eliminates its rough-hewn charm. Finally, on the ballad In My Sky, his voice is more present and we get to really hear the shadings of his vocal style. Adding to the strength of his singing on this track is some really sweet acoustic guitar work by Mr. Bruhns.
I have my favorite songs – Cast Away, And So On, In My Sky, and Life’s Offerings. These will get lots of airplay in the truck as the weeks go on. I also truly enjoyed listening to Tony Kaye on the keyboards. He was perfection personified. He brought his A game to this project and it truly shows on every song.
Mostly I enjoy the messages within the words. This is a deep, meaningful album that attempts to open our eyes to the harsh world around us. That is where this album strikes me the most. These are stories about our vision as a people, our resources that are being depleted, our fears that are being exploited; with reminders that each moment needs to be cherished, to love our family and ourselves, and to…
1. And So On 2. Cast Away 3. ‘Til We get There
4. Notorious 5. Half Way Home 6. In My Sky
7. True Progress 8. Each To His Own