Review – Steve Howe – Homebrew 7 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Steve Howe is certainly prolific, in the last few years he has released records with his sons Virgil and Dylan and released a new solo album, all along with a live Yes album, ‘The Royal Affair’, and also has a new Yes studio album due for release in October (marking the band’s first new material since the death of Chris Squire).

This new release by Steve of his solo recordings or sketches, ‘Homebrew 7’, is a most welcome set. What is different to his previous ‘Homebrew’ releases is that, this time, all of these pieces have not been written for any of his other projects, like Asia or Yes. The album is a mix of styles and sounds, taking several directions, along with several vocal tracks. Now, while Steve doesn’t claim to be a singer, he is more than okay on these tracks and his guitar skills continue to shine. It is good to hear that Steve continues to create new music regularly and that he is not content to retire or withdraw from musical life or activity just yet. This music shows that he still has a fire and a passion for his creativity to continue unabated for a while yet at least, in an era of ageing rock stars this is a joy to see and hear.

The highlights of this album are many and varied, most of the tracks are really musical sketches or frameworks, ready for further input or completion, let’s have a quick trawl and see what lurks within these pieces…

The album begins with a short piece called The Glider which offers a chance for Steve to show his proficiency on steel guitar, armed with a GS10 processing effect unit to give his guitar a soaring tone to it, all very simple but all very effective and pleasant. Like much of this album, these pieces do not overstay their welcome at all. Steve is from the ‘less is more’ school of guitarists and he does not overplay or over complicate matters at all. In an age where many guitarists are shredders, this makes a welcome and refreshing change.Steve could probably do all that and more but, here, his wisdom and restraint pay real dividends.

October follows and sounds like something from the George Winston/Windham Hill album which is no bad thing at all. This is a briefly orchestrated piece and sublime sounding it is too. Next up is the first Vocal Track Half Way, with Phil Spalding on bass. This is quite a surging rock song with a chugging riff and chiming guitar line in amongst everything that is going on. With nice brief solos accompanying the vocals, it’s a great little number that is really fiery and the end is sudden and final. This in itself is brave in not having any long run out or fade and is highly effective. The Only One is next and offers a bluesy swing, again, another highly effective interlude. Sadly this piece is way to short, it would have been good to hear Steve wail over this track a lot more. In One Life follows and this piece dates back to 1982 and is a simple piece in a similar vein to Muskrat.

Outstanding Deal is the second vocal track. I feel that Steve’s voice may not be really suited to this song but, even so, he gets away with it because the music is brilliant, with a great sounding steel guitar part that elevates the piece and gives it a sense of atmospherics that carry it well. Be Natural is different in that it features Steve’s guitar being powered through a Leslie Speaker which gives a very unique sound, all very clipped and slightly overdriven. This is a neat but effective trick and it sounds great. It’s a short piece but highly effective and interesting. Cold Winds is another older piece from 1983 with some great double tracked guitar lines and includes drums from a 14 year old Dylan Howe. Deanscape is a piece Roger Dean has used on his website for a while. Dating from 1982, much of what was used has been forgotten over the years but, again, this is an atmospheric piece.

Tender Hooks is up next and is an acoustically driven piece with steel guitar lines soaring over the top, it is another fairly simple piece but one that is full of melody and charms. Another vocal song, A Lady She Is, follows and this is a quiet tranquil piece with electric mandolin in a duet with Steve’s Gibson ES175D. This is simply a beautiful piece of music and again highlights Steve’s talents and skill superbly. Two Sided offers Steve chance to play over a choral backing and add his unique steel guitar sounds to a brief piece of music. This is followed by Strange Wayfarer, a jolly little jaunt that has comedic leanings written all over it. It has a simple rhythm and sounds suitable for Children’s TV series played on a Synth effect guitar. It is certainly different and yet somehow still interesting. Devon Girl is another short vocal track. An older track from 1983, it is still a good little number one that could work as a worked piece at some future stage perhaps. Safe Haven features an ascending guitar line with multiple guitars answering each other most effectively. The excellent crunchy guitar line added to proceedings makes this another effective number.

A Matter Of Fact is a fine bluesy number with a strong guitar line making it stand out significantly. Touchstone is a short but highly effective number with some great Telecaster guitar tones and lines in it too. Effective, brief and excellent. From Another Day dates from the ‘The Steve Howe Album’ sessions in 1979 and is the final vocal song. This is a brief song followed by Forgone Conclusion which is another piece with wailing steel guitar sounds. It’svery spacey sounding and a great little piece. Space Void is 70 seconds of synthesizer sounds and noise, like a lost Hawkwind track from 1972! The final track, From The Get-Go, is a song featuring Steve’s favourite Gibson ES175D as the star. With a lovely tone and delightful sound added to a shuffling beat, this closes the album in style.  

Well, there you have it. Twenty one straight forward pieces of artistry from a man whose guitar skills have graced many classic prog albums over the years. From ‘Close To The Edge’ to the forthcoming Yes album, ‘The Quest’, from Asia’s debut in 1982 to his own collection of solo and group albums, this man has done it all with style and here he shows the bare bones of his skills in a great set that is a worthy addition to his canon or works. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Steve Howe on guitar…

Released July 30th, 2021

Order the album from Cargo Records here:

Steve Howe ‘Homebrew 7’ (cargorecordsdirect.co.uk)

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