Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Circa - the EP

A lot of new music by some old (and new) favorites of mine has been released within the last few weeks so I'm doing a little catching up today on writing a few thoughts on what I've been listening to lately.

Today I'll write a bit about the band Circa, which is made up of former and nearly former members of Yes: Billy Sherwood, Tony Kaye, Alan White and Jimmy Haun.

Yes offshoot bands have a bit of a spotty record. Chris Squire's Fish Out of Water is a great solo album by Yes' bass player and I've enjoyed having that one in my car again lately. But it took him over 25 years to make another album without Yes (Conspiracy, made with Billy Sherwood) and, while it was a fine album, it didn't set the make the kind of statement that Fish did. Guitarist Steve Howe and vocalist Jon Anderson have both made some interesting solo albums, some alone and some in collaboration with others. Remember the cool albums by Jon and Vangelis? But there is also the sometimes strange pop albums that Anderson made with L.A. Session players like In the City of Angels and The More You Know - this is an idea that doesn't even sound like it would work well on paper and, sure enough, it didn't work in actuality either. Howe's work in the band Asia is noteworthy, partly because their first album was quite good but mostly because they sold a ton of copies when their first album came out in the early 80's. Howe went from Asia to the totally forgettable GTR with Steve Hacket from Genesis, which only lasted for one album and tour. While Howe's albums are always listenable they tend to sound an awful lot alike after a while. Rick Wakeman actually left Yes in the first place partly because his solo career was taking off so well. The Six Wives of Henry VIII is a good record but, frankly, it does feel a little bit caught in it's particular time – it sounds just like it was recorded in the early 70's. He, too, has sound-alike-itis and a few of Wakeman's albums are really all anyone needs.

As a group, though, they have pretty consistently made interesting and enjoyable albums. These days, though, Yes finds itself in the strange position of still wanting to produce new music as a band but, at the same time, not being able to sell much of it. Their recent albums didn't sell very well but when they tour they can still sell out arenas around the country and, indeed, throughout the world. I imagine that the expense of making a Yes album and mounting a tour is pretty high and it might actually be easier and more cost effective for them to just work on their own. The five current members of Yes have all been in and out of the band a number of times for many reasons. Right now happens to be one of those times when Yes is inactive. They haven't actually quit the band but there really is no Yes right now that they could quit. So the members need to find something else to do.

Drummer Alan White is the member of Yes with the worst track record of solo work – although a stint in John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band in the early 70's before he joined Yes gives him a very high coolness quotient. Since Yes' last tour he has kept himself busy by getting together with some Seattle musicians to form the band "White" which produced one album and didn't last very long. But Alan White jumped right into a new venture. He has joined with two other ex-yes men and one sort-of yes man to form a new band, Circa. The driving force behind the music of Circa is Billy Sherwood, who toured with Yes as an extra guitarist and keyboard player, then produced Yes' Keys to Ascension 2 and soon after became a regular member of the group for album The Ladder and it's subsequent tour. That gig lasted for only a short time and Sherwood went back to making his own music. He also made two albums with bassist Squire in their group called Conspiracy. For Circa, he decided to be the bass player and he got together with original Yes Keyboard player Tony Kaye and White and began to make new music. The addition of Jimmy Haun, who's guitar appears on the poorly received Yes album Union (for reasons I've never really understood) completed the group.

They released and then withdrew a self-titled two-song EP on itunes that I was lucky enough to download during the three weeks that it was available and, I must say, I like it a lot. The music is clearly Yes influenced but doesn't sound like it's just trying to mimic that sound. It reminds me of the way Yes sounded on Open Your Eyes. No surprise there since Sherwood had a big hand in shaping that record. And Sherwood's bass playing has more than a little Chris Squire influence. I also find myself thinking that Jimmy Haun is almost channeling Steve Howe in spots. Alan White's drumming is the sort that doesn't usually jump out at you and say "hey this is Alan White" but it subtly reminds us that we are in familiar territory. In other words, this sounds a lot like a really good pair of Yes songs that you've never heard before. The release date for the full album hasn't been announced yet but it is promised "soon." This one might be worth looking for. You can find them and hear one of the songs on their MySpace page.

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