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Steve Howe - Paul Sutin & Steve Howe: Voyagers CD (album) cover

PAUL SUTIN & STEVE HOWE: VOYAGERS

Steve Howe

 

Crossover Prog

2.30 | 22 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
2 stars 'Voyagers' - Steve Howe & Paul Sutin (43/100)

The members of Yes aren't particularly known for much post-peak success in their own careers, whether together or apart. No decade was so bad for them as the 90s, and no member's solo career was perhaps as inconsistent as Steve Howe's, whose guitar work is often surprisingly underwhelming outside the context of the band. The album Voyagers came out in the middle of Steve Howe's weakest decade, although to call it a Howe record might be misleading. This instrumental new age album was largely penned by Swiss composer Paul Sutin, who was supposedly inspired by dolphins while writing it, or something. As collaborations go, this one feels imbalanced to the point of being a cash-in. Howe's guitar lazily meanders atop Sutin's gentle electronica, and the music urges the listener to relax, almost to the point of putting said listener on edge. Voyagers makes a novel departure from any Yes- redolent expectation one may have had approaching something from Howe's back catalogue, but it would be a hard sell to recommend this album as more than spacey wallpaper. This is what Ozric Tentacles might sound like after checking into the retirement home.

I generally find New Age skirts a fine line between sounding legitimately relaxing, and pushing that relaxation to the point where it sounds irritating, like elevator music, or the godawful diabetic noise they blare through the phone when you're on hold with customer service. While fellow Yes-man Jon Anderson found a great New Age collaboration with the almighty Vangelis, Howe's work with Paul Sutin is decidedly less impressive, and all the less 'relaxing' for it. Although there's precious little to keep a listener intrigued for long, Sutin lays a steady foundation with flutes and basic soft/space electronica. The beats are soft and floaty, and sometimes, they actually work. "Ocean Light" and "Sonar Call" aptly convey the desired aquatic atmosphere, and some other moments on the album successfully managed to lull me into an Atlantean bubble of relaxation.

No doubt most people who've listened to Voyagers were keeping their ears out for Howe's contributions, but his guitarwork is an accoutrement at best. Paul Sutin would write what are essentially backing tracks for Howe, and Howe would play over them in parts. That playing sounds like a pretty blatant cash-in. While there's not much space to excel past a few 'soulful' Gilmourisms in such a mellowed out context, I do feel like Steve Howe should have taken greater care to let his playing come to life. While his performance is vaguely similar to his style with Yes, the solos sometimes sound like they were written with the most basic taste in mind. Then again, I don't know how much of this may be attributed to a lack of passion so much as the album's aim and intent. One of the rare exceptions to the rule on Voyagers is the more upbeat "Sanctuary"; here, both Howe and Sutin excel at their respective crafts, with Howe taking a jazzier mode to his playing, and Sutin injecting his electronic form with a much-welcome urgency. Yes, an album of stuff like "Sanctuary" would be worth hearing by much more than merely diehard Yes fans, and it might even be enough to save this album from the dump heap. But generally speaking, I can't fathom returning to a Howe/Sutin collaboration when the sleepiness dares to outweigh the interest.

Between Howe and Sutin, I actually find myself more impressed by the work of the latter. Whereas Sutin sounds like he's composing with tenderness, Howe generally sounds like he played his parts with eyes open halfway. Voyagers generally sounds like a lazy album, and not in the way the artists intended.

Conor Fynes | 2/5 |

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