2007

Circa:

Independent release, 2007

http://www.circahq.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/04/2007

One of the fun things about any vibrant musical community is when you start seeing cross-pollination – players of compatible musical perspectives and tastes coming together in previously unimagined formations. In the ever-fertile prog-rock arena, the latest evidence is Circa.

Circa is the brainchild of former Yes sideman, producer and member Billy Sherwood, a multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter in his own right. Here he plays the role of bassist-vocalist in the John Wetton/Chris Squire tradition, collaborating with fellow Yessians Alan White (drums/vocals) and Tony Kaye (keyboards), with Jimmy Haun (credited on Yes’ Union album and the Sherwood/Squire project Conspiracy) taking the guitar slot.

The end product of this semi-supergroup’s collective vision is a rich stew of modern prog that might feel a touch predictable in places but overall is very tasty. What’s exciting for the longtime Yes fan is just how thoroughly this disc is infused with the Yes sound and ethos. Sherwood, who has played with Squire in both Yes and their side projects Conspiracy and World Trade, does a virtual Squire impression here, his bass lines prominent and energetic, his vocals full yet airy. White and Kaye are White and Kaye; this is a compliment with no elaboration necessary. And Haun is a revelation, a musical chameleon who does a better soaring-slide/nimble-classically-inclined-fretwork Steve Howe impression than anyone I’ve ever heard, while at times also managing to channel his inner Trevor Rabin into some flashier runs. bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250

The end product sounds a bit like Cinema (the pre-Anderson/not-yet-Yes early-80s Rabin-Squire-Kaye-White grouping) with a more prog-inclined guitar player, or perhaps Asia if Squire had taken Wetton’s slot and they’d played actual prog music. (Side note -- Rabin actually co-writes two songs on this disc, though he doesn’t play on it at all.) Or maybe they just sound like Circa…!

Lead-off track “Cut The Ties” opens with delicately picked acoustic notes that transition quickly to a bounding Squire-esque bassline with prominent Hammond from Kaye and a speedy descending electric hook from Haun. When Sherwood’s big, airy vocals come in and the songs drives forward you get a sense of the potential present; this dynamic, catchy and thoroughly winning track tops anything the Rabin edition of Yes ever produced.

“Don’t Let Go” churns effectively, balancing its essential repetitiveness with some nice instrumental work from Kaye and Haun. “Together We Are” feels like a lost cut from The Ladder, a mid-tempo number that has an adult contemporary ballad feel at first but blossoms nicely halfway through, Haun’s solos trilling away while Sherwood’s multi-tracked vocals soar over the top.

“Information Overload” is built around an opening, layered a capella chorus that feels like a direct steal from “Children Of Light” off Keys To Ascension 2, an album Sherwood co-produced. It’s a good steal, though, and the song’s continuously morphing arrangement keeps interest up. On “Keeper Of The Flame” it’s Haun’s turn to carry the Yes torch as he executes a spot-on Howe homage, painting soaring slide notes and then layering a series of nimble runs on top.

“Look Inside” has a somewhat obvious self-help lyric (“Only you can turn your life around… Look inside yourself”) and Rabin’s hand is evident in the poppy chorus chord progressions, but the song also features a snappy Kaye organ solo and more solid string work from both Sherwood and Haun.

The 12-minute, multi-movement closer “Brotherhood Of Man” hits all the right notes, feeling more like a lost Yes epic than anything the band proper has recorded since 1977. The opening moments of soaring slide over ascending bass runs over loose rolling drums and cymbals immediately reminds you of the opening to “And You And I” -- and that is once again a high compliment.

Lyrically, the album is a bit bland in places, though its intentions and sentiments are ever positive. But the real question is, in the context from which this group sprang, does 2007 add musical value? The answer there is an unqualified yes (not Yes). This is lovingly-crafted modern prog featuring superb playing, strong vocals and arrangements, and pristine production. Any Yes-whole or fan of either Cinema or Asia will definitely enjoy this album.

Rating: B+

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© 2007 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Independent release, and is used for informational purposes only.