Anthology serves its purpose -- that is, to compile Howe’s solo stock and spotlight him outside the confines of his day job.
Whenever a musician is a key member of an iconic band, he or she often melds into the whole, diminishing his or her individual identity in favor of the collective combine. Hence the need for solo albums to extend life outside the constraints of the ensemble’s signature sound. It’s a natural evolution for any accomplished musician, and the results often reveal a sound and style otherwise restrained or obstructed due to playing the role they’re consistently assigned.
Which leads us to Steve Howe, the massively talented, long-serving guitarist at the core of Yes in its most enduring incarnations. Howe hasn’t always been with the band -- he joined after the departure of founding member Peter Banks and left briefly to help launch Asia, inaugurating a second successful group he was able to add to his resume. Mostly though, he’s stayed in service to the mother ship, satisfying his solo urges through a series of individual albums that have both echoed the Yes template and veered far afield.
Consequently, any compilation will, by necessity, reflect that diversity and in so doing, spotlight Howe as the virtuoso he is. In fact, Anthology makes a striking case for elevating Howe to the highest strata of contemporary rock guitarists, even though he’s far more ambitious and less constrained than most of his contemporaries, Clapton, Beck, Page and Santana included.
Howe seems to fancy himself as a kind of Django Reinhardt incarnate, what with his tonal sketches and sprawling, visceral soundscapes. Indeed, he’s just as adept at jazz (check out the fusion-esque “Westwinds”) and blues (as affirmed by “Luck of the Draw”) as he is with the numbers early on side one that essentially echo the Yes template. And lest there be any doubt about his ability to connect, a listen to his version of the surf standard “Walk Don’t Run” or the two tracks culled from his most unlikely but still critically satisfying Portraits of Bob Dylan album -- those being “Just Like a Woman” and “Buckets of Rain” -- demonstrate he’s perfectly attuned to conventional melodies as well.
If there’s any downside to this ample anthology -- 35 songs spread over two discs -- it’s that it only spotlights Howe’s solo output, paying no heed whatsoever to his group endeavors. True, the ample number of reissues and unreleased Yes material would make any inclusion redundant. Likewise Asia’s work is well represented in the marketplace as well. Still, a sample of his work with his early prog combo Tomorrow would have added interest, as would some live, unreleased or outside session offerings. Only an early track of unknown origin, “So Bad”, comes close to being identified as a rare find. And truth be told, it’s hardly a gem at that.
Still, Anthology serves its purpose -- that is, to compile Howe’s solo stock and spotlight him outside the confines of his day job. To that end, it’s an extraordinary set of songs, an example of a most fanciful finesse. Anyone who’s admired his ingenuity and dexterity will have ample reason to feel well served.