Billy Sherwood,”Living in the Now” from Living in the Now (2011): One Track Mind

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On an album boasting a number of wind-swept, very dark ruminations on life in this digital age, Billy Sherwood takes a second on “Living in the Now” to contemplate the answers — and he comes up with something as startlingly beautiful as it is forehead-smackingly simple: Let go.

Nothing new there, I suppose. Nor is it all that surprising to find Sherwood, an alum of progressive rock band Yes and a one-time contributor with Toto, playing every instrument on the newly released What Was the Question?, his fifth solo project. After all, Billy Sherwood’s earliest standout moment in Yes can be found during 1991’s Union, where his one-man band demo “The More I Live” appeared nearly unedited — with just the addition of Jon Anderson’s vocal. Sherwood wouldn’t officially join Yes until 1997, but not before touring with the band and then engineering and producing the Keys to Ascension albums. His official tenure this first time around would last just three years, but the impact the band had on Sherwood was lasting.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Billy Sherwood joins Nick DeRiso to discuss his initial decade-long tenure with the progressive-rock band Yes – and how it all fell apart the first time.]

You certainly sense that on “Living in the Now,” from the tidal changes in tempo and feel, to the limber bass lines and almost mathematical guitar asides, to the sweeping, inspirational lyrics. Yet, Sherwood remains more than the sum of his Yes years. Across the breadth of What Was The Question?, as on his denser concurrent efforts alongside fellow Yes alum Tony Kaye in the band Circa, Billy Sherwood dabbles in the weird impressionism of early Genesis, and the crinkly nerve of Jeff Beck. There are layer upon layer of multi-tracked vocals, straight out of the sun-drenched school of Brian Wilson. And the offbeat yet catchy compositional verve of those unjustly forgotten prog-rockers UK — fitting, since Sherwood produced John Wetton’s 2011 solo project, and has Wetton as a guest on this album’s “Delta Sierra Juliet.” That’s not to mention the thundering improvisational references to Weather Report.

Still, for all of that musical and perhaps topical familiarity, Billy Sherwood’s message on this track — arriving as it does, ever deeper into the era of troubling questions and even more troubling answers concerning privacy in an online world — somehow lands with a particular resonance. No, these technological marvels haven’t released us from worry, so much as given us more things to heedlessly involve ourselves with. Devices that were supposed to help us save time have become these ravenous consumers of our days. And every click, every “add to cart,” is now part of your permanent record in some computerized card catalog.

Yet, Sherwood remains unbowed, the voice of reason. “For all the worrying and losing sleep,” he insists, “we don’t have much to show.” The answer, Billy Sherwood seems to be saying, is right in front of you — blinking like Gatsby’s beacon. Hit the power button. Turn it all off.

As “Living in the Now” abruptly ends, you can almost feel that quiet space as a computer powers down, when the fan dies out and the screen goes into black — that moment when you can finally hear your own heartbeat again.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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  • Jane McKinney

    Can’t stop listening to this… it’s awesome!
    btw… I’m an OLD PROG LOVER…
    In to King Crimson, ELP, YES (LOVE THEM, MET THEM), OH just throw a dart, this is worth the money.
    “What money you say?”
    Don’t eat out for a day.
    But… buy this for your soul. Better to feed the soul than feed the cholesterol.