Citizen

Billy Sherwood

Frontiers, 2015

http://www.billysherwoodhq.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/04/2015

The tricky part about reviewing a Billy Sherwood album is keeping the intro-slash-backstory under four paragraphs. Over the course of 30 years as a bandleader-vocalist-composer-multi-instrumentalist-producer-engineer-mixer extraordinaire, Sherwood has worked with much of the known progressive rock universe, most notably filling several of the aforementioned roles with Yes, the pioneering band he grew up admiring and eventually joined. That one run-on sentence aside, though, I’ll leave the rest for you to explore in the context of my recent interview with the man.

Citizen is Sherwood’s eighth solo album, and a landmark one for him in a couple of significant respects. It’s his first concept album, a time-travel fantasy built around the idea of a single person (The Citizen) being reincarnated again and again to observe, record and even take part in critical moments in human history.

It’s also the first time that Sherwood—who plays guitar, keyboards, bass and drums—has included guest players and vocalists on one of his solo discs. Here, mirroring an approach he’s taken with a number of tribute albums over the past 20 years, he adds at least one notable guest on every track, and the resulting assemblage of talent is a veritable prog all-star team: half of Yes’ convoluted family tree shows up, plus the likes of Steve Hackett (Genesis), Colin Moulding (XTC), Steve Morse (Deep Purple), Alan Parsons (Pink Floyd & the Alan Parsons Project) and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The result is an album that addresses head-on the biggest issue I’ve had with some of Sherwood’s past solo work: a certain samey-ness. Part of the issue is that Sherwood tends to deliver a very consistent sonic palette: crisp, airy, ’80s/Trevor Rabin-style arena-prog production framing songs and performances that tend to favor technical proficiency over emotional engagement. While Citizen’s overall sound bears Sherwood’s characteristic stamp, the arrangements here are among the most fluid and varied he’s ever delivered in a solo context, benefitting again and again from the tremendous chops his guest list brings to the table.

The heart of the album lies in a trio of songs toward the start. “Just Galileo And Me” features Colin Moulding’s wonderful lead vocals atop one of Sherwood’s more creative arrangements, a folk-prog number with a sharp acoustic guitar solo framed by a catchy chorus. Shifting to the trenches of World War I, the anthemic “No Man’s Land” is lit up by a pair of dynamic solos from the clearly-enjoying-himself Morse. And “The Great Depression,” an atmospheric ballad that finds the Citizen preparing to jump from a ledge after losing everything in the stock market crash, is highlighted by Rick Wakeman’s rippling, superb piano work.

Other moments of note include the final recorded performance by Sherwood’s friend and mentor Chris Squire of Yes, pumping the title track through the ceiling with a steady, booming bassline; the tasteful, atmospheric keyboards Patrick Moraz adds to “Trail Of Tears”; and Jerry Goodman’s skyscraping violin work on “Empire.” Notable also is Sherwood’s muscular, nimble bass work on tracks like “No Man’s Land” and “Escape Velocity”; there’s no question in this fan’s mind that Sherwood was the only logical choice to take on Squire’s former role as bassist and harmony vocalist in Yes.

A couple of thoughts on the production as a whole. In general, Sherwood’s lyrics work best when he writes in first person; it’s the old ”show don’t tell” maxim at work. And I do wish Sherwood the producer wouldn’t rely so frequently on processing Sherwood the singer’s vocals through filters and other sonic doodads; masking the singer’s voice with effects inevitably creates emotional distance just when you’re trying to foster connection.

These quibbles aside, Citizen is among the strongest work found in Sherwood’s solo catalog, an imaginative concept album whose A-list guests deliver in spades, making this trip through time a memorable ride well worth taking.

Rating: B+

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