“This is tightrope-walking without a net… it feels a bit like having him play a solo up close and personal, and who – other than certain former members of Yes, perhaps – wouldn’t want that?” Steve Howe’s Motif Volume 2

15 years after the first instalment, the guitarist bares the bones of his writing and proves those bones are strong

Steve Howe - Motif Volume 2
(Image: © Howesounds)

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It takes inspiration and real compositional flair to make a solo guitar piece fly, but Steve Howe has done it time and time again. From The Yes Album’s live gem Clap to Surface Tension from his 1979 solo record, The Steve Howe Album, and beyond, the versatile musician with the sizeable instrument collection frequently came up trumps.

Howe revisits both the aforementioned tunes – plus such similarly cherished pieces as Mood For A Day and All’s A Chord – on the home-recorded Motif Volume 2. This collection comes 15 years after the conceptually similar Motif Volume 1, and once again Howe spreads his bases between deft, Chet Atkins/Merle Travis-style fingerpicking, classical, jazz, bluegrass, folk and more.

Though no acoustic version of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Welcome To The Pleasuredome is forthcoming (Howe played session dobro on the 1984 original at the request of producer and former Yes bandmate Trevor Horn), there’s nevertheless loads to enjoy.

We get late 50s-style slap-back echo-treated electric guitar nuggets such as Tailpiece and Cactus Boogie (the original recording of the latter had a more fleshed-out arrangement when it appeared on The Steve Howe Album). We also get warming Spanish guitar pieces such as Oceans Cadenza and The Little Galliard – named after a kind of lively triple-time that originated centuries ago.

It’s testament to the strength of Howe’s writing that, even without the lead vocal and complex full-band arrangement which graced the original version of All’s A Chord, the piece still stands up. Likewise on Beginnings, the title track of Howe’s 1975 solo debut – here divested of Patrick Moraz’s baroque arrangement for strings, harpsichord and woodwind.

On Motif Volume 2 we see the bare bones of Howe’s writing, and those bones are strong. Beautifully recorded, and modest in its use of guitar effects processing, this is Howe tightrope-walking without a net.

Listening to it feels a bit like having him play a solo up close and personal, and who (other than certain former members of Yes, perhaps!) wouldn’t want that? It’s also an LP likely to make those of a certain age pine for a time when a solo guitar interlude was almost contractual for any prog or rock axe hero worth their Saxa.

As Motif Volume 2 reminds us, Howe’s Mood For A Day and Clap remain a vital part of a select and ingenious canon that includes Steve Hackett’s Horizons, Jimmy Page’s Bron-Yr-Aur, and Alex Lifeson’s classical intro to A Farewell To Kings. Long may he strum.