Billy Sherwood + Tony Kaye and Chris Squire, “The Citizen” (2015): One Track Mind

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Billy Sherwood’s serrated guitar is surrounded once more by the ghostly keyboards of Tony Kaye as “The Citizen” opens — but it all seems to fall away, to recede into the background, once the dearly missed Chris Squire steps to the fore.

Squire, who passed earlier this year after a brief bout with leukemia, plays with a familiar limberness, but also with a familiar force. The combination of those two things, like light and dark, would have given new shades of meaning to Sherwood’s new song no matter the circumstance. But “The Citizen,” released today (Oct. 30, 2015) in advance of his forthcoming album Citizen, is inextricably bound up in circumstance.

This marks a long-hoped-for reunion between Chris Squire and his protege Billy Sherwood, now the last in Squire’s absence. Since his former Yes bandmate’s death, Sherwood has stepped in to complete previously scheduled band dates, even as he struggles through his own grief. Though recorded long before any of this unfolded, “The Citizen” nevertheless must bear the weight of that loss, too.

It’s a lot of ask of any song, and that’s without noting that Tony Kaye’s presence marks a return to collaborations with Chris Squire that date back, off and on, to Yes’ earliest music. “The Citizen” has to both embrace and transcend that history — history that’s both lasting, and emotional.

It does. As the title suggests, “The Citizen” serves as a launching pad for Billy Sherwood’s larger album theme, one that traces the journey of a single figure moving across different eras through a series of reincarnations. But it also stands alone, even for those who might be unaware of his broader concept. Sherwood gets there by smartly challenging us to consider how small decisions can have much larger implications, by reminding us that the uninformed can unwittingly play a central role in our fates. Even outside of the framework of Citizen, he still has a lot to say.

And then, after Sherwood and Tony Kaye — the pair formed Circa after their earlier tenures in Yes — brilliantly tangle once more, “The Citizen” begins a thunderous run to its final conclusion. And suddenly, Chris Squire is viscerally there again, creating (as it seemed he always would) the foundation for all the rest.

In this way, “The Citizen” both marks a path forward for Billy Sherwood as a solo artist, even as it underscores the steep climb that Yes — and Sherwood himself — has in trying to go on without someone like Chris Squire.

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