A Life In Yes: The Chris Squire Tribute

Various Artists

Purple Pyramid, 2018

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/03/2018

A genuine labor of love, this album represents current Yes bassist/vocalist Billy Sherwood’s personal tribute to his friend and mentor, Yes co-founder, bassist, harmony vocalist and songwriter Chris Squire.

Sherwood was invited into Yes in 1997 on the strength of his work with the band over the previous seven years as a songwriter, live sideman, and producer. He then left Yes in 2000 but was never out of its orbit, frequently working with Squire, Tony Kaye, Alan White and others in the band’s extended family on a variety of projects, until he was eventually drafted back into the band by Squire himself in 2015, when Squire fell ill near the end of his life.

As a lifelong fan of the band’s music, and having been personally chosen by Squire to take his place in Yes, Sherwood has all the credentials required to deliver the kind of tribute that a talent like Squire’s deserves, and it’s no surprise to hear that, with help from a number of guest stars, he’s done exactly that. Even so, Sherwood himself dominates, having played every note of bass on the album, while also providing guitar on several cuts and lead vocals on two. Other Yes personnel past and present pop up repeatedly, with current touring member Jay Schellen providing all of the drum tracks.

Notably absent in the credits is anyone from the rival Yes faction of Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman. It’s too bad given the rich musical history each man enjoyed working with Squire, but that’s reality of current band politics. (Perhaps more puzzling is the absence of Squire and Sherwood’s longtime bandmate Steve Howe, but whatever.) One thing these notable absences do accomplish is to create the space for other players from Squire’s long career to get involved.

The album opens strong as Sherwood tackles the epic Squire bass workout “On The Silent Wings Of Freedom” and does his friend proud with magnificently nimble, expressive playing. Patrick Moraz (Yes, Moody Blues) contributes keys, freshening up the rather dated tones of the original, while current Yes frontman Jon Davison handles vocals. Another highlight pops up right away as Sherwood recruits Steve Hogarth (lead vocals, Marillion) and Larry Fast (keyboards, Peter Gabriel, Nektar) for an enthusiastic run at “Hold Out Your Hand,” the lead track from Squire’s brilliant 1976 solo album Fish Out Of Water.

Sherwood lovingly recreates the essential elements of complex, brilliant Yes nugget “South Side Of The Sky,” in particular Squire’s big, dirty bassline and the three-part harmonies, all sung by Sherwood here. In the song’s winding, unsettled middle section, David Sancious puts a warm, jazzy twist on the piano solo, one of the more enjoyable extrapolations on an album that’s more typically faithful to the originals. In the last minute, Steve Stevens delivers some elastic, arcing slide guitar that’s the closest we get to actually hearing Howe on this album.nbtc__dv_250

“The Fish” is where Sherwood really tests his own mettle, taking on his mentor’s signature bass featurette and doing a more than creditable job of walking in Squire’s footsteps without purely imitating him, putting his own spin on certain moments and segments and notes. (He definitely captures and honors Squire’s affection for those fat, rumbly, low-low-low notes… “Be sure to rattle their rib-cages!”) Next up, Sherwood takes the opportunity to revisit and reimagine “The More We Live – Let Go,” the first song he ever co-wrote with Squire back in 1990, adding sitar and a suitably swirly keyboard solo from Toto’s Steve Porcaro.

Another standout track is that hoary beast “Roundabout,” the one song Yes has probably played live at every show for the past 46 years. Guest guitarist John Wesley does an outstanding job replicating the signature opening to the song, then Sherwood’s bounding bassline kicks in… and Todd Rundgren begins to sing. It’s of course startling to hear a voice of a different tone and timbre performing this especially familiar song, but once you clear that hurdle, Rundgren nails it, channeling the spirit of the song and performing with passion throughout this engaging and energetic take on the full eight-minute version.

A few tracks have lesser impact. “Parallels” (featuring founding Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye) is a tough one to assess as it’s one of my favorite Yes cuts and the guitars and keys have definitely been tinkered with, which is inevitably a bit jarring. (It’s also startling to hear someone—in this case Jon Davison—sound like they might be singing Anderson’s parts too high… I mean, is that even possible?) It’s lovely to have Annie Haslam sing “Onward” and Candice Night does a nice job Grace Slick-ing it on “Don’t Kill The Whale,” but neither song is a personal favorite. And the best thing I can say about this album’s version of “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” featuring Nikki Squire on lead vocals and Dweezil Zappa on guitars, is that it’s refreshingly different.

The two bonus tracks are of mostly historical interest and both feature Squire himself; “The Technical Divide” is taken from one of Sherwood’s Prog Collective albums and matches Squire with Alan Parsons, David Sancious, and Gary Green, while a more memorable cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” features Squire and Sherwood trading lead vocals and White on drums.

Much as funerals for the living, to a significant degree it feels like tribute albums are for the participants. We already have the original recordings of these songs, and they are iconic and irreplaceable. These new recordings are interesting mostly for what they reveal about the individual participants’ passion for this music and respect for Chris Squire and his life’s work. For example, I had no idea Todd Rundgren was a Yes fan, but of course it makes perfect sense, and knowing that adds context to his own body of work.

A Life In Yes: The Chris Squire Tribute is a fond and fitting tribute to a towering figure in progressive rock and one of the most prodigiously talented bass players who has ever graced the planet. Well done, Mr. Sherwood—well done, indeed.

Rating: B

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