08 February 2021

Arc Of Life Review by Steve Gould. Released 12th Feb 2021

Arc Of Life – Frontier Records

(Dave Kerzner, Billy Sherwood, Jimmy Haun, Jay Schellen and Jon Davison)

Released Feb 12th 2021

Back when I was 14 (more than a few decades ago, wink wink), I was lent “Fragile” by Yes and “Pictures At An Exhibition” by ELP and thus my Prog journey began. Just shy of 50 years later, my wife and I both agree that music has been a binding force throughout the years and has given us a vast amount of happy memories and insightful moments that live with us to this day….in fact, music brought us together and after 42 years of marriage, I think that speaks for itself.

Over the years I have seen Yes many times and in 2021, despite the current pandemic crisis, Prog is VERY much alive and kicking and seems to go from strength to strength with an entire raft of bands and musicians who have been led and influenced by the Prog Greats of Yesteryear. In a recent interview with Billy Sherwood, he revealed that he was first introduced to Yes at the age of 11 via “Close To The Edge” and anyone who knows his past work with bands like Circa, World Trade, Conspiracy, Yoso and now Arc Of Life, will hopefully agree with me that it has played a major influence over the years so it’s hardly surprising that the debut album from this new “supergroup” has a huge Yes vibe going on…..

If you are familiar with earworms, the two more “commercial” tracks – “You Make It Real” and “I Want To Know You Better” are prime candidates for release as singles (is that still a thing these days ???) but even though they will latch onto your brain like a very annoying thing at the “Annoying Things of 2021” awards, please don’t judge the album on them for there is so much more to reap from this rather wonderful debut album that features Dave Kerzner on keys (who has released a Yes tribute album), Jimmy Haun (who is a long-term friend of Billy Sherwood and has played on Circa albums etc) three members of the current Yes line-up and mainly written by two of them – therein lies the hint at what to expect guys !!

Album opener, the upbeat “Life Has A Way” complete with ‘tron flutes courtesy of Dave Kerzner and Jimmy Haun’s sitar guitar, is a thoughtful and well textured track to kick things off featuring the distinctive Jon Davison vocals and let’s face it, was there ever any doubt who could take the place of the other Jon, even though there are a minority of Yes freaks who insist to this day – “No Jon Anderson – No Yes“. Well I suppose the same could be said for Chris Squire (who was the only member of Yes, until his very untimely demise a few years ago, that featured in every incarnation of the band from day one) even though he insisted Billy Sherwood should take his place and ensure the band carry on and while the current situation has seen the demise of live music, we wait with bated breath for the next Yes tour where they are down to play the whole of the classic “Relayer”, but I digress…let’s get back to the album.

In the mid 80s line-up, Yes embraced a more AOR sound for the albums “91025” and “Big Generator”, but man did that push the band into the stratosphere, pulling in a whole new generation of fans and even though the 70s diehards were wincing and whining, I feel the band found a new level of vitality throughout this period and the same could be said with Arc Of Life – This is YES for the new millennium !!

Lead vocals are shared between Jon and Billy and anyone familiar with Billy’s vast back catalogue will be not too disappointed with the overall production values from start to finish. This is a very polished affair as you’d expect. Everyone gets their time in the Sun, although I wish Jon had had more time with lead vocals, but I suppose it would have ended up sounding even more like Yes so there’s a really nice dynamic and throughout the vocal harmonies are wonderful.

“Talking With Siri” – the second track features some really unusual and clever vocal treatments. “Locked Down” and “There For We Are” the two longest (and for me the most standout) tracks on the album- both over 9 mins long featuring some superb vocal work (especially the latter) and bass lines Chris would be proud of, mini epics indeed. I would go so far as to say they could be new Yes tracks in fact, the two commercial tracks aside, overall this is a much more coherent and well structured album than the last Yes studio album “Heaven And Earth” (which for me, was very disappointing and showed a total lack of originality, imagination and creativity).

Yes have been around in one form or another since 1968 to the present day because they have ridden the tides of change in musical styles over the years, despite the critics. If they hadn’t adapted and customised their sound, they might not be here today, although in saying that all of their recent tours have focussed on the (classic) music of the 70s, the golden age. Maybe it’s time to think about releasing an album of brand new music rather than rely on past glories….a good starting point would be to listen to the Arc Of Life album for inspiration………

If you are a fan of Asia,Yes or ANY Billy Sherwood project, I think it’s safe to say – YOU’RE GONNA LOVE THIS !!!