This less-than-lavish box set
includes Yes’ first dozen studio albums,
along with a bevy of bonus tracks and a
diminutive poster of the same Roger Dean
artwork that graces the box. Each album is
presented in a miniature reproduction of its
original sleeve, with no additional information
provided, much less a book of any sort.
(To view the bonus tracks you’ll need to pop
the CDs into a player and scan the playlist.)
And although the albums have been “remastered,”
the work was done a decade ago
(Rhino is a little cagey about this), and all
have been available individually since then
other than Big Generator, which could only
be obtained as a Japanese import.
The good news is that the albums sound
quite good, and provide a panoramic overview
of Yes’ first 18 years—from the psych-pop-
proto-prog of 1969’s Yes (which includes covers of the
Byrds’ “I See You” and the Beatles’ “Every Little Thing”)
through the band’s “classic period” of progressive rock masterpieces
to its commercially successful but artistically dubious
mid-’80 rock outings (including Yes’ only #1 hit, “Owner
of a Lonely Heart”). And the really good news is that you can
pick it up online for as little as $50.
The first two albums feature the late Peter Banks on
guitar—an underrated player whose inventive style and compelling
blend of crunchy rock and clean jazz tones, with the
occasional Leslie or other effect, was unusual at the time.
And at the other end of the timeline, there’s Trevor Rabin’s
period-correct hard rock riffing and clever use of harmonizers
and sample editing. The other eight albums in this collection,
however, are where the real 6-string magic happens,
and the thought I kept having while listening to them was:
“Steve Howe is a f**king great guitarist.”
Right out of the gate, on the first track on his first album
with the band, Howe launches into funky filtered chord stabs
followed by bubbling clean arpeggios and melodic runs,
pedal-steel-like volume swells, twanged-out pull-offs and
hammer-ons, and an understated solo contrasting slinky fuzz
sustain with fatback jazz timbres. And that track’s followed
by a brilliant live solo-acoustic guitar performance that references
“Classical Gas.” Howe is Chet Atkins, Tal Farlow,
Eddie Cochran, Jimi Hendrix, and Mason Williams—without
being any of them.
And that’s just the beginning. Howe’s work on the following
four albums was increasingly exploratory and inventive,
resulting in a unique amalgam of approaches and spectacular
tones that few even bothered trying to emulate. His use
of effects, alone, was stunning—and that’s not to mention
his electric sitar, nylon-string, and cosmic lap-steel work.
The alternative to this collection is the limited edition
High Vibration SACD Box issued in late 2013 by WEA Japan,
which includes newly remastered 24-bit/96kHz SACD and16-
bit/44.1kHz CD versions of all these albums and more, along
with a 200-page book (in Japanese), but it costs nearly ten
times as much, making it easier to say “yes” to this more
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