Today seems like the perfect day to talk about Jon Anderson. Not only do will we see Anderson and Rick Wakeman at the Tropicana Showroom in Atlantic City on October 29 and the NYCB Theater in Westbury on November 6, but today is also Anderson’s 67th birthday. The British singer/songwriter has been on the music scene since the late 1960s, and is best known for his work with the rock band Yes. He has also released 14 solo albums, six with Vangelis, one with Wakeman and one with ABWH. Anderson is known for his excellent high register (with no falsetto), short stature, and mystically-themed lyrics. Let’s take a look at The Living Tree, his most recent release with Wakeman in late 2010.
The album starts with part one of the title track. We hear Wakeman start on the piano with synthesized strings before Anderson’s vocals tell us a story of a sacred lady and a sacred man. While it is a very musical accompaniment, Anderson’s voice sounds just a bit raspier than usual. We hear a more complicated piano part in “Morning Star” and the unusual time signature reminders us of classic Yes material. The background harmonies (also sung by Anderson) help add to the mysticism and the theme of afterlife in the song. This theme is also evident in the lyrics for “House of Freedom”, where he says “Oh, aspire to become the giver light.” Anderson’s simple piano line sounds almost like an etude, as opposed to a song.
The second part to the title track seems to pick up right where the first one left off, even though they are separated. It’s obvious how respectful Anderson feels about nature, as he sings “we are the master class of the living tree.” The synthesized woodwinds add a feeling of being in the woods. Again, the theme of spirituality is extremely evident in “Anyway and Always”, but with Anderson’s voice, it doesn’t sound forceful at all. Wakeman’s eighth-note accompaniment provides a solid, rhythmic tempo. The title of “23/24/11” refers to a soldier in Afghanistan who has 23 days, 24 hours and 11 minutes left in his time in the war. The actual lyrics don’t quite show this and it’s up to the dark, somber sound of Wakeman’s music to set the mood.
“Forever” clearly shows Anderson’s love in his faith. Wakeman’s music makes the song a little more ‘pop-y’ than one would expect with these hymn-like lyrics. Wakeman’s beautiful songwriting is evident in “Garden”, as he’s trying to add different instrumentation and chord structure while Anderson sings about nature again in the shortest song on the album. The album finishes its tranquil tone with “Just One Man”, as Anderson sings about his Savior. The Living Tree certainly belongs in the New Age section of any music store-maybe signaling the change in Wakeman and Anderson’s musical influences.