Turbulence is one of the few purely instrumental albums in Steve Howe's catalog. Never much of a crooner, some of the vocals on his albums have been cringe worthy despite his best intentions. Meanwhile he is playing some of the most distinctive guitar in rock. Many hoped he would make an all instrumental album for years and it finally arrived in 1991.
There was a flurry of Yes related activity at the dawn of the 90s. A renewed interest in the classic lineup cropped up around then. Once again Howe found himself in the Yes fray. The brainstorm of record company people, the bands Union album was a forced marriage of the 80's Yes and 70's Yes. It was interesting for a moment but didn't have much depth. A few songs on that album, "I Would Have Waited Forever" and "Silent Talking" appear here in much different form- better! "Talking" becomes "The Inner Battle" and "Forever" becomes "Sensitive Chaos".
Turbulence stands as the best Yes related album of that era. Union fell flat, a bloated mess. This album aviods those pitfalls for the most part. Howe is joined by Billy Currie of Ultravox on keys and none other than Bill Bruford on drums (pity they are electric). Howe plays a plethora of stringed instruments. His famous Gibson 175, Fender Strat, mandolin, Martin steel string acoustic, Fender lap steel, National dobro, Rickenbacker 12 string and more are here. He layers them beautifully on many tracks, weaving different textures in and out of the mix via multi-track recording.
There are a few annoying points here, mostly stemming from the production of the album. It has a bit of a dated sound. Bruford's electric drums are mostly to blame, and some of Currie's keyboard sounds. On the plus side Howe contributes a lot of natural timbres that manage to rise to the front of the mix so things don't sound too slick, though sometimes it is a fine line.
Compositionally most of these pieces are tight. Much more focused than anything on his prior albums. This is the first album he made since the huge sucess of instrumental rock guitar music in the mid 80's. It seems like he tried to make an album that would grab some of that audience. He winds up delivering an album that is a bit more diverse and sophisticated than others in that field.
Howe really pulls out the stops playing wise. It is like he had ten years of music bottled up in him and the licks and ideas are just overflowing. Top tracks for me are "The Inner Battle", which has the best guitar break on the whole album. This version really lets Howe cut loose, something that never happened on the Union album. "Sensitive Chaos" is the other one that really stands out for me. You can tell why they chose these tunes to rework for Union, they are the strongest of the lot. "Chaos" has some really ferocious playing on it.
There are some others that are kinda lovely though. "Hint Hint" evokes the sound of the orient. "Corkscrew", a pastoral ride through the meadows.
This is the most consistent album of his career in my opinion. For once he just got on with only playing guitar and that makes this album worth more than a few listens. A real treat for Howe fans, a must.
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