Reviewed – Jon Anderson – 1000 Hands

Rating – 4/5

Jon Anderson has one of the more distinctive voices in music. His work with Yes is legend, and if you haven’t heard “Owner of a Lonely Heart” then I’m going to suggest you’re lying, you didn’t realize it was Yes you were listening to, or you’ve been living in a cave for the last half-century.

1000 hands has been in the making for almost as long as those 50 years. Sorry, Jon, you’re not as old as that. It’s been 30 years of picking it up, writing a bit, stopping again. Jon has had it in his head all this time and finally got round to finishing it off.

It’s not going to be an album full of tracks like “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. That was a vignette of the music of the moment. A perfect snapshot. This is a time-lapse. An eclectic foray through the last 30 years of music filtered through the brain of Mr Anderson. It’s also passed through a number of hands. Maybe not quite a 1000 but many hands make light work and Jon has enlisted some notable guest assistance. Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Billy Cobham (Miles Davis), Jean-Luc Ponty  (Mother’s of Invention/ Return to Forever), Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs), Chick Corea, Zap Mama, as well as appearances from Yes compadres: Steve Howe, Alan White, and the late Chris Squire, and many more. I would imagine it was a process as eclectic as the content of the album, and not all these guys in one room at the same time. It’s an expensive round in the pub afterwards otherwise.

Jon’s voice has held up remarkably well over the years, especially considering the register he normally operates in. There is an edge of production or autotune sound to it initially, which is a little jarring but once you get past that it’s as warm and familiar as it ever was.

jon anderson

“Now” opens the album and it’s truly an intro track of no more than 1 minute 40 seconds. A relative rarity but welcome in this case. There’s no hiding his light under a bushel as track 2 is “Ramalama”. This drops you right in the middle of the muddle. It’s got everything. Banjo, Sitar, Throat singing, tambourines, and Jon’s vocal pervading the whole caboodle. It should be a drunken meal thrown together with the disparate remainders of ingredients in the fridge. It should be an unholy mess of unlistenable, contrasting and jarring influences. But it works brilliantly. The introduction vocal is a little grating noisy chant thing that thankfully gets buried by the wonderfully floating and travelling melody, and Jon’s voice comes through in the true lyrics. It’s like a great film that you get something new from every time you watch it, there’s something else to take away from it every time you hear it.

“First Born Leader” is a super positive, we’re in this together, let’s get this done type of song. Choral with the backing choir and organ of the intro, then it kicks in with steel drum and whistling over the top. If you came to this album expecting a run of the mill then look elsewhere.

Jon hasn’t taken the boring approach of doing one song based on one genre, a sphere of influence or inspiration; boxing it off and moving onto the next one. He’s chucked all of his musical life in the blender and set it to high. There’s more of this or that in each track to give it it’s own flavour but the blending is great. How it works together is testimony to the man because I can’t figure out why it’s so palatable.

“Activate” slows it down a touch and brings a more sombre element. Spanish guitar overlaid with bluesy simplicity, jazz flute and birdsong. Blender set on high remember. It pairs itself back with a simple bassline and Jon’s vocals, a great contrast to the busier elements when everything combines. The texture of this one is rich as it dips into simplicity, complexity, floating harmony and deeper driving bass. Not a short track but the journey makes it seem to pass quickly.

“Makes Me Happy” starts with an oddly 90’s R&B beat which gets overlaid with a simple guitar that is pure kitsch and happy. It’s got a very Colin Hay vibe to it which is a huge compliment and it does exactly what it says on the tin. It will make you happy. If it doesn’t then at least it sounds happy which is a perfect midpoint for the album. The midpoint of the track goes a bit jazzy with the horn section giving it some pep and a more ska feel before dropping back into the quirky indie vibe.

“Now Variations” starts very classical with the string quartet opener and a funereal vibe in the vocal. It’s only a snapshot of 1 minute but it’s a veritable display case for Jon’s undoubted vocal talents without being a vanity project. I’d have loved to have seen this one expanded into more of a full track as the mere minute isn’t enough. It definitely leaves you wanting more.

“I Found Myself” finds itself opening with more birdsong and violins before pulling back to reveal a slower, sombre number. Jon switches into a more ethereal, dream-like style which is a change of pace from the higher pitch frenetic pace of some of the other tracks. It feels slightly slowed down and simplified which is interspersed with more violins and guitar. A very chilled outnumber.

“Twice In A Lifetime” brings the violin out again to start us off. More urgent and melancholy this time and then switches to a very gallic accordion sound.  This is a very narrative track with a full story being told and it’s told very well. The blend of musical styles and texture as they overlay makes it very listenable indeed. There’s military-style drumming, harpsichord, the accordion again and more violins. It’s a tapestry. A tale from a time long passed and it carries you through the narrative brilliantly well. A proper underrated epic.

“WDMCF” is an acapella effort with backing beats and a far more dance music vibe that fades in and out. It’s totally unexpected and as a result, considering the blend of all the styles so far, something that should maybe not have been such a surprise. It builds and falls in intensity and drive, heavy bass calming to the piano and dreamy synths. It covers a lot of bases and does them well. If there was a track, to sum up this album it’s this one.

“1000 Hands” is the title track, which is always nice to see. Not sure why but it makes an album seem more thematic when there is one. This one opens in a different way to all the others, a constant theme is anything. Bass, piano and simplified vocal take us out of the introduction and it’s reminiscent of a rat pack era song with more going on. Frank and Sammy didn’t blend steel drums with their crooning. The background melodies are from varying instruments and styles but even in their rich complexity they manage to showcase Jon’s voice superbly and it’s never overridden. Again with this one, there’s something you’ll hear and find every time you listen to this one. There could be an argument that squeezing all this inspiration into one album muddies the waters but here that’s not the case. Every element gets it’s own moment to put its head above the water before it plunges back in and becomes another wave in the sea.

There’s an incredibly deft touch running through this whole album to be able to do this without making a total mess. It’s very well done.

We’re shown out by “Now And Again” a reprise of the opener “Now”. It’s sad. It’s as if it’s acknowledging we’re picking up our coats to go home and it’s going to miss us as we go. Friendship and memory come through in the lyrics and it’s a wistful nostalgic look through the musical career of someone who’s seen a lot. This feels like quite a personal reflection and it’s touching as a result.

To hark back to the initial comment, this is definitely not an album of one moment but a tapestry of all them stitched together as a whole. A summing up of a musical career thus far and a well-orchestrated one at that. Take a listen, follow the journey and take a dive through some disparate yet wholly complementary influences.

Review by Jim Clinch

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