December 15, 2015

Progressive Rock Review: Billy Sherwood-Citizen

Release Date: 6th Nov 2015
Label: Frontiers Records

The list of areas in which Billy Sherwood is involved, is little short of staggering, as he is a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, composer, producer, engineer, mixer, solo artist, current bass player with Yes and an independent producer. He has, however, found time to record his eighth solo album, Citizen, released recently. His debut album was released back in 1999 (The Big Peace) and even with his involvement with many projects, also releasing albums, he has averaged a solo album every 2 years on average.

The list of guest artists helping out on this album reads like a “Who’s Who” of the progressive fraternity. On keyboards we find such luminaries as Rick Wakeman, Jordan Rudess, Tony Kaye, Geoff Downes and Patrick Moraz, on guitars appear Steve Hackett, Steve Morse and John Wesley, violin provided by Jerry Goodman and vocals by Colin Moulding, Alan Parsons and Jon Davidson. Billy Sherwood contents himself by only being involved in drums, bass, keyboards, guitar and vocals. One other guest, who sadly passed away earlier this year, provides the thundering bass on the title track which is apparently one of the last recordings by Yes bassist, Chris Squire.

Classed as a concept album, Citizen tells stories from various historic moments as seen through the eyes of one man, a sort of audio version of “Quantum Leap” which was a TV series. The album itself is an 11 track release with a total playing time of around 72 minutes with the shortest track, “Just Galileo and Me” clocking in at 5:12 minutes and the longest piece on offer, “The Great Depression” having a running time of 8:58 minutes.

First up on Citizen, is the title track, “Citizen” which is a tad under 7 minutes in length (6:57). This is an initially strong opening track with a great guitar melody, backed by the characteristic thundering bass provided by Chris Squire and good vocals, all of which lead into a superb keyboard based section from Tony Kaye. Unfortunately, by the time the track has entered its 5th minute, just after the keyboards section, the repetitive melody seems to have been overplayed and the last couple of minutes seem to be an extension too far.

“Man and Machine” (6:59) has a typically “mechanized” sound to the intro, but rolls along well and has several passages that maintain the interest of the listener and there is a great little hook appearing at points. This track seems to work better than the opening track, but there is a similarity to the pace of the tracks.

The third track on Citizen is “Just Galileo and Me” (5:12) which has a different style, but similar tempo to the previous two bits of music. The chorus is extremely catchy and the lyrics prompt a bit of thought, but I was starting to yearn for someone to “let rip” with an instrument to heighten the “grab your ears” factor.

The ballad-like “The Great Depression” (8:58) leans heavily on the superb piano passages and keyboard themes, provided by The Caped Crusader himself, none other than Rick Wakeman. Billy Sherwood excels on acoustic guitar then moves onto the electric guitar and fires off some classy solos.

“Empire” (5:45) features vocals by Alan Parsons and some excellent violin playing by Jerry Goodman from The Flock and Mahavishnu Orchestra. “Age of the Atom” (6:37) has a few points which hint back at previous tracks and is one of the less successful outings on the album. There are a few excellent keyboard and guitar passages on “Trail of Tears” (6:14), but “Escape Velocity” (6:14) seems to struggle to reach the heights of earlier tracks.

The penultimate track, “A Theory All of Its Own” (5:45), and the finale, “Written In The Centuries” (7:35) build up the interest in this listener again as there seems to be more happening musically within the tracks than earlier.
Without doubt, having reviewed a few of the Billy Sherwood project releases, Citizen is the most enjoyable release I have heard thus far. Individually, the tracks all have their moments some more than others, but after all 11 tracks, the lack of real highs across the album is a bit of a disappointment. This may be caused by the expectation from such an amazingly talented collection of guests, but I feel that the potential from such a pool of musicians is left untapped.

Citizen is an album that I will dip into from time to time, but for a single track or perhaps two. As always, I would suggest giving Citizen a few listens before making any decisions, and I would also expect that a great many people will have a different viewpoint on the album.

4/5 Stars

Key Tracks: The Great Depression, A Theory All of Its Own, Empire

Jim “The Ancient One” Lawson-Sr. Reviewer Prog Rock Music Talk
December 15, 2015
Review Provided By Prog Rock Music Talk

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