It's remarkable how progressive rock pillars Yes managed to consistently create top-quality music through the decades (with exceptions here and there) despite near-constant ego clashes, management problems, and other inner turmoil that resulted in frequent personnel changes. Vocalist Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman had left the Yes fold once again before the old friends joined forces in 2010 as Anderson/Wakeman to record a new studio album, The Living Tree. Serious health problems have plagued both men; Anderson's life-threatening respiratory ailments in particular led to his 2008 Yes departure. Anderson and Wakeman were in their sixties during the recording of The Living Tree, therefore spirituality, mortality, faith, and the afterlife are important themes on the album, especially in the songs "Morning Star," "House of Freedom," "Anyway and Always," and "Just One Man." Anderson's angelic voice, which was previously as clear as a bell, is startlingly rougher and raspier on this album, especially on the opening track, "Living Tree, Pt. 1." This song, along with "Living Tree, Pt. 2" and "Garden," reflect Anderson's joyful respect for the power of nature. "23/24/11" is a biting critique of war inspired by the fighting in Afghanistan; the title refers to a soldier counting down the time left in his tour of duty. Musically, The Living Tree is spare and stripped down to just Anderson's vocals and Wakeman's piano and tasteful layers of other keyboard textures and fills. Considering the complexity of Yes' music, at times the songs on The Living Tree seem like elaborate demos, and it's worth noting that Anderson and Wakeman e-mailed audio files back and forth to make this album. Listeners used to the grandly cosmic, new age flavor of many Yes songs may be surprised to find that the songs on The Living Tree are more intimate and grounded in reality.
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AllMusic Review by Bret Adams