Billy Sherwood seems to be everywhere lately. If he isn't working on an album for his band Circa (“Circa” – 2007, “Circa Live” - 2009, “Circa HQ” - 2009, “Overflow” - 2009, “And So On” - 2011), or recording a new solo project (“The Big Piece” - 1999, “No Comment” - 2003, “At The Speed Of Life” - 2008, “Oneirology” - 2010, “What Was The Question?” - 2011, and “The Art Of Survival” - 2012), then he's either masterminding or appearing on some new tribute album.
Don't believe me … Sherwood has appeared on tribute albums for Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, AC/DC, Genesis, Yes, Queen, Ozzy Osbourne, Journey, UFO, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Rush, Supertramp, Thin Lizzy, and four different tribute albums for Pink Floyd.
And over the years Billy Sherwood has performed with the likes of Yes, Todd Rundgren, Deep Purple, Toto, Def Leppard, Asia, Air Supply, and even Ratt to name a few. So it safe to assume he's made a few friends and music contacts over the years. Which explains his access to the impressive pool of talent he's assembled for his second Prog Collective album “Epilogue”.
“Epilogue” features a veritable Who's Who of prog and rock luminaries which include: John Wetton (Roxy Music, King Crimson, Asia), Geoff Downes (The Buggles, Yes, Asia), Alan Parsons (Alan Parsons Project), Chris Squire (Yes), Rick Wakeman (Yes), Gary Green (Gentle Giant), Steve Hillage (Gong), John Wesley (Porcupine Tree, Fish), Steve Stevens (Billy Idol), Tony Kaye (Yes, Badger, Circa), Colin Moulding (XTC), Nik Turner (Hawkwind), Mel Collins (King Crimson), Derek Sherinian (x-Dream Theater, Planet X, Black Country Communion), Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs), Fee Waybill (The Tubes), Roye Albrighton (Nektar), Larry Fast (Synergy), the late Peter Banks (Flash, Yes), Sonya Kristina (Curved Air), Patrick Moraz (Refuge, Yes, Moody Blues), Jim Cumo (Fireballet, Intergalactic Touring Band), and even Captain Kirk himself ...William Shatner!
But don't assume those musicians will in anyway influence the direction of the music … all the tunes on “Epilogue” are Sherwood compositions. This is a collaboration in name only.
And with multi-instrumentalist Sherwood doing the lion's share of performing don't expect to hear echoes of Crimson, Hawkwind, The Moody Blues, Nektar, Dream Theater, Deep Purple, Dixie Dreggs, or Curved Air just because he's enlisted artists from those groups as members in good standing of The Prog Collective. Unfortunately the guest musicians are under-utilized and act as little more than window dressing, embellishing the recordings with the occasional extended solo, and as featured guest vocalist. What you can expect is a heavy does of 90s' “Open Your Eyes” era YES, and the two Sherwood/Squire Conspiracy albums.
The only track which veers noticeably from Sherwood's writing style is “Just Another Day”, which just so happens to be co-written by Gentle Giant guitarist Gary Green. As a result the tune shares many of the complex time signatures and unique qualities that made Gentle Giant compositions so interesting.
And even though seven different artists share lead vocal responsibility, Sherwood's attempt to instill each tune with YES-like harmonies detracts somewhat from the lead performance. After a while, no matter who is assuming lead vocals, the over-all vocal presentation ends up sounding like unreleased “Drama” studio sessions from the Horn/Howe/Downes/Squire/White YES line-up.
Now for fans of YES or Sherwood's other projects like World Trade and Cira this is probably good news. (Of which I am one.) And on the plus side, a majority of the music on “Epilogue” is made up of solid hook laden tracks, and just as good as anything from “Open Your Eyes” - one of the three YES albums Sherwood was a part of. Which in retrospect might be something of a double-edged sword considering “Open Your Eyes” was mercilessly panned by critics and widely regarded by fans as their least favorite YES album.
But with the All-Star line-up of performers on “Epilogue” I was expecting more. A lot more.
The album has a few real winners, which includes “Shining Diamonds” (easily the best track on the album – and co-written with Steve Stevens … with a kick-ass keyboard solo from Patrick Moraz), “Are We To Believe”, “Adding Fuel To The Fire”, “Just Another Day”, and “In Our Time”. And the spacey prog instrumental “Epilogue” with spoken word narration from William Shatner is a very cool atmospheric track … short, sweet and trippy.
But on the flip side “Tomorrow Becomes Today” featuring Curved Air vocalist Sonya Kristina simply went nowhere. This was one of those weaker tracks you'd expect to turn-up as a bonus studio outtake if the album is reissued in the future. And “Memory Tracks” is another throw-away ballad that just didn't grab my attention, although the vocals of Nektar's Roye Albrighton were the one redeeming quality in an otherwise tepid song.
And when an album boasts a powerhouse group of performers like The Prog Collective – you shouldn't expect a moment of boredom to creep in.
For the most part this is a very good album and well worth a listen. And if you're a lifelong YES fan in all their many incarnations then this should be a welcome addition to your music library. Plus there were some great smoking leads from guest musicians throughout the entire album, making even some of the weaker tracks more palatable. Wakeman's synth solo on “Are We To Believe” brought back memories of vintage YES at their peek. And the laser light speed fret and keyboard gymnastics from Steve Morse and Jordan Rudess during “Adding Fuel To The Fire” was a treat for the ears. And any appearance from Mel Collins is a welcome one.
The weak link in “Epilogue” isn't the ensemble of talented musicians … it's Sherwood's limited scope of a true 'prog collective'. Rather than pull from the many resources the genre has to offer – he's tailored much of his career, as well as the music on this album to the patented sound of YES.
And the end result is The Prog Collective and “Epilogue” comes across as little more than an extended branch of the YES family tree. Something that might have been easily corrected had he made The Prog Collective a true collaboration of ideas. The Billy Sherwood/Gary Green track “Just Another Day” is a perfect example of incorporating other progressive rock influences to go beyond the YES mantra.
Despite my many negative comments to the contrary, for the most part this is a very good album and well worth a listen.
And if you're a YES aficionado then this should be a welcome addition to your music library. But if you – like myself – expected the material on the album to match the level of the All-Star talent pool assembled for this promising prog/rock project, then you might be disappointed.
Reviewed by Jsoeph Shingler on September 28th, 2013