Tales From Yesterday

Various Artists

Magna Carta, 1995

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/25/2008

Given the controversy over the upcoming is-it-really-Yes-or-no tour, it seems only fitting to review an album of Yes music made by a melting pot of Yes members and admirers.  

Assembled by prog-friendly Magna Carta back in 1995, with liner notes from the editors of Notes From The Edge, Yes’ own fan newsletter, Tales From Yesterday is a sort of love letter to Yes music, featuring contributions from individual Yes members past, present and future (Steve Howe, Patrick Moraz, Peter Banks and Billy Sherwood), Yes contemporaries (Annie Halsam), Yes admirers (Robert Berry, Magellan, World Trade, Shadow Gallery, Cairo, Enchant, Spock’s Beard) and even Yes offspring (young Adam Wakeman’s band Jeronimo Road).

The end product of such an amalgamation of different musical personalities is almost inevitably going to be somewhat uneven.  The interest naturally arises mostly in what the various players choose to change or retain from these song’s often-complex original arrangements.  This in itself is ironic since, as Mike Tiano and Jeff Hunnicutt appropriately observe in the liner notes, “Yes have always created imaginative arrangements, first evident in their renditions of others’ songs.  Yes didn’t simply cover tunes, they turned them inside out…”  Would their friends and disciples do the same?

Well… (get ready for it) …yes and no.

Among the chance-takers is Robert Berry (of 3, a.k.a. Emerson, Berry & Palmer), who takes the group’s trademark “Roundabout” in a Dream Theater direction, playing up the power chords and giving it a herky-jerky metallic rhythm that throws the cadence of the lyrics out of step with the music.  It’s not awful, just not very melodic, which was the essence of the original. 

Multinstrumentalists Mike Keneally and Kevin Gilbert (Sheryl Crow) team with Spock’s Beard drummer/vocalist Nick D’Virgilio for “Siberian Khatru,” delivering a version that captures both the syncopated beauty and the interwoven vocal harmonies of the original, while adding the fun of finishing with a quick bar of “Heart Of The Sunrise.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Steve Morse (Kansas, Deep Purple) covers two of Steve Howe’s solo acoustic pieces (“Mood For A Day” and “Clap”) without adding a lot to either, and let’s face it, they were never really Yes pieces to begin with, just sops to Howe’s considerable (albeit justly earned) ego.  Other than demonstrating yet again that Morse is a very proficient guitarist, there’s not much point to these two tracks. “Don’t Kill The Whale” was never a favorite of mine, and the Magellan version here does little to change my opinion.  It’s nice that they toned down Wakeman’s too-shrill synths and pumped up the guitar, but the overblown vocals give back whatever ground the arrangement gained.

The Steve Howe-Annie Halsam version of “Turn Of The Century” is as sublime as one might expect, though Alan White’s delicate percussion work on the original is missed.  Shadow Gallery contributes a rather prog-metal version of “Release, Release,” an interesting direction to take it, but why would they keep the worst part of the original song, the fake crowd noise behind the bridge?  Yeesh.  World Trade gives a straight reading of “Wonderous Stories” that tells you exactly why the band brought Billy Sherwood on as a full member a couple of years after this disc came out.  Sherwood – who produces and plays everything but drums – understands exactly what makes this track tick and nails everything about it.

Next up, Cairo takes hero-worship to new heights with their spot-on rendition of “South Side Of The Sky.”  I was amused to see the All-Music Guide slag Cairo for not varying more from the original; to me that just shows the writer doesn’t really appreciate Yes music.  Unlike some of the other selections here, “South Side Of The Sky” is not just a good song but a perfect song, a song so complex and brilliant and powerful that the band that authored it refused to play it live for almost thirty years because they found recreating it onstage such a daunting challenge.  The fact that Cairo takes this 100-mph heater on the outside corner and yanks it out of the park with one clean swing makes me want to run out and buy an album of theirs ASAP.

One time Yesman Patrick Moraz fares the best of his former bandmates here with an absorbing solo piano rendition of the “Soon” segment from Relayer’s epic “The Gates Of Delirium.”  Neo-proggers Enchant (another Magna Carta house band) recreate Trevor Rabin’s “Changes” with almost-eerie attention to every sonic detail; if you like the original, you’ll enjoy this one (assuming you can tell them apart).

Toward the finish, original Yes guitarist Peter Banks takes an instrumental run at “Astral Traveler” and blasts it into hyperspace as an inventive and entertaining guitar showcase.  And finally, Jeronimo Road closes things out with a version of “Starship Trooper” that can only be described as painful -- a Ronnie James Dio clone bellowing out the lyrics as the rest of the band butchers the music behind him.  Ouch.

Tales From Yesterday is inevitably disjointed and some cuts are light-years more successful than others.  But to this reviewer’s ears, both the most faithful (Cairo, World Trade) to the original recordings and the least (Moraz, Banks) share in the available kudos.

Rating: B-

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© 2008 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 Magna Carta, and is used for informational purposes only.