Guitar virtuoso Steve Howe – yes, that title actually applies in this case – follows up his rather boring Skyline album from last year with one of his most invigorating solo projects. Maybe it's the presence of Howe's sons Dylan (drums) and Virgil (keyboards and harmony vocals), maybe it's the way Yes has been taking more chances lately (a remix album?) or maybe it's just that the old man (56 years) wants to play his brains out before he dies.
Regardless of the reasons, Elements is an outstanding, mainly instrumental, album. Only three tracks boast vocals – and when I say "boast," I mean that. Usually, Howe's unsteady voice is almost painful to listen to, but here it's full of renewal and surprisingly appealing. Opening track "Across the Cobblestone" begins with the happy sound of birds chirping, gives way to a lone acoustic guitar and then kicks into an almighty prog groove with Howe's voice leading the way on a song that's catchier than anything the man's done in years. Of the remaining two vocal tracks, "Where I Belong" is a sparse acoustic blues number that incorporates a pop melody, and "Load Off My Mind" is foot-stompin' electric blues.
Howe also keeps the instrumentals diverse. "Westwinds" boasts an early-Chicago jazz-rock vibe complete with horns, while "Tremolando" and "Pacific Haze" sound just as their titles suggest. Near the album's close, the brass-heavy, ZZ Top-inspired "Rising Sun" gives way to the progressive keyboard majesty of "Sand Devil" and the pomp and circumstance of "The Longing." All told, Howe offers 16 highly listenable tracks that combine to make Elements a surprisingly rewarding spin.