Guitarist Steve Howe keeps himself busier than ever in middle age with both recording and touring. In addition to his main job in Yes, he works occasionally with Asia and regularly releases solo albums. 2001's Natural Timbre is his first entirely acoustic studio project, and it's a rewarding blend of styles and influences. Over the course of 18 songs, Howe plays a variety of guitars, mandolins, basses, and other stringed instruments, and is joined on some tracks by violinist Anna Palm, multi-instrumentalist Andrew Jackman, or his son, drummer Dylan Howe. The progressive rock foundation of Natural Timbre is obvious, but new age, country, blues, jazz, and classical angles abound too. "Distant Seas" is a swaying, jazzy song for which Howe utilizes a Japanese koto in addition to guitars. A country-ish, Renaissance flavor is displayed on the perky "Provence." Distinctive, multiple guitar parts highlight the impressive "Family Tree." "Dream River" is a self-duet with Howe playing two main smooth, fingerpicked jazz guitar melodies. "Up Above Somewhere" is a soft solo acoustic guitar piece. A tight melody and a tense rhythmic feel propel "Lost for Words." "Winter" is the second movement of this portion of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"; Howe arranged it for 12-string acoustic guitar and mandolin. Natural Timbre ends with three Yes songs, the best of which is an excellent reinterpretation of "Your Move" (part of "I've Seen All Good People" from The Yes Album); the other two are "Disillusion" (a segment of "Starship Trooper," also from The Yes Album) and "To Be Over" from Relayer. Guitar fanatics will love the liner notes, which include Howe's comments about each song and a detailed chart pinpointing the instruments he played on each one.
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AllMusic Review by Bret Adams