So, where do we stand on tribute albums? And please don’t say ‘the neck’. Former Yes guitarist Billy Sherwood has made several of them, and approaches each with an engineer’s mind, stripping them back, discovering the original’s essence and rebuilding from that. On Songs Of The Century, Supertramp’s back catalogue gets a respectful but not slavish treatment from some of the heavyweight prog names lurking in Sherwood’s impressive address book.
John Wetton’s slightly gruff read of Breakfast In America, Annie Haslam’s fragile take on Dreamer, Joe Lynn Turner’s gravelly rip through Bloody Well Right are just different enough to offer a new angle on great songs so often played that maybe we take them for granted. John Wesley gives a good turn on Take The Long Way Home, Colin Moulding’s It’s Raining Again is more straightahead while Steve Morse’s guitar replaces sax on The Logical Song, sung by Starship’s Mickey Thomas.
Elsewhere Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess, Rod Argent, Robby Krieger and the Prog God himself Rick Wakeman offer typically assured performances. The one original song, the bright, major key Let The World Revolve sees Sherwood and Chris Squire share vocals, and this points the way to his much more interesting, non-tribute project.
Comprising seven Sherwood songs, The Prog Collective brings together many of these musicians and more on an album that, musically if not lyrically, pretends the last 20 years didn’t happen. The Laws Of Nature is a strong 80s-flavoured prog anthem with that John Wetton again, a blistering stick solo from Tony Levin and langourous violin from ex-Mahavishnu Jerry Goodman’s. Alan Parsons suits The Technical Divide, with Gentle Giant’s Gary Green taking the guitar solo. While not earth-shattering, the songs give these stellar names plenty to work with.
Social Circles is about the virtual world (which made this album possible, via sound files bouncing from artists across the world to Sherwood’s LA studio). Annie Haslam’s echoing vocals are matched by a languid solo from another ex-Yes Man, Peter Banks. Geoff Downes’ burbling keyboard solo is a highlight on Over Again, a pleasingly repetitive tune all the more FM radio-friendly for the silky-smooth vocal of Mr Mister’s Richard Page. Steve Hillage, XTC’s Colin Moulding and again Mr Wakeman are here in force too.
Both albums offer an irresistible critical mass of talent. Songs Of The Century is a lovingly rendered exercise, but The Prog Collective is Sherwood’s real artistic achievement.