YES: Keys to Ascension (CMC International / Yes Records)

When it comes to the world of progressive rock, one of the genre's most successful groups is Yes. While they survived numerous personnel changes over the years, the diehard fans didn't always approve. The lineup on Keys to Ascension is the one considered by most to be the definitive Yes--Jon Anderson on vocals, Chris Squire on bass, Steve Howe on guitar, Rick Wakeman on keyboards, and Alan White on drums. Roger Dean--whose talents have graced the covers of every Yes album since 1971's classic, Fragile--did all the artwork for the new album.

You can't help wondering when bands supposedly past their prime release albums like this. Is it a 'contract album'? Are they just going through the motions? Whether this is a contract album or not doesn't matter. Starting with the perennial concert opener, "Siberian Khatru" and going right through the set closing "Starship Trooper," the band is in surprisingly fine form. Anderson's voice hasn't suffered at all over the years. He hits the notes he was able to hit 25 years ago with ease.

The bulk of Keys comes from three shows in San Luis Obispo last March, with almost 95 minutes of music coming from those concerts. One of the coolest things about this double CD is the selection of live material included--about half of it is available commercially for the first time. "The Revealing Science of God" and Paul Simon's "America" are outstanding, much better than the studio versions. Howe plays the intro to "Roundabout" on the acoustic instead of the electric (as it should be), and the song sounds better than ever.

Keys also contains two new tracks from the band (totalling almost 30 minutes), although neither one struck me as anything that required a second listen. They weren't bad, but the highlights are definitely the live tracks. The CDs come packaged in a cardboard slipcover, which holds the jewel box and a small poster. The booklet contains complete lyrics to all the songs, along with photos from the three shows. The sound quality is superb. It's too bad Yessongs never sounded this good.

© 1997 Steve Marshall