Guitarist Steve Hackett may be best known for his work with early Genesis in the 1970s and participation in the 80s rock super group GTR, in which he played alongside Yes guitarist Steve Howe. But for over thirty years, he has had a distinguished solo career, releasing a number of exquisitely wrought recordings with a variety of collaborators. Those who are “in” on the existence of this impressive catalog might wish that it had less of a cult status, as that’s what would befit much of Hackett’s output from a qualitative standpoint. However, remaining slightly below the mainstream’s radar has had had a fortunate byproduct. Hackett has been able to avoid the pressures of mainstreaming and homogenizing his records’s content, a fate that has befallen far too many prog legends once the A&R people got their way. Instead, Hackett has happily explored eclectic music-making; work that encompasses prog rock epics, synth-haloed alt pop songwriting, blues-inflected electric guitar shredding, pastoral neo-folk ballads, and crossover classical compositions played on nylon string guitar. Sometimes all of these approaches appear on the same album.
Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, Hackett’s most recent studio release, epitomizes this eclecticism. Yet, amid all this variety, it is a musically cohesive and engaging recording. The principle reason: Hackett’s singular creative vision remains crystal clear and his chops and voice are both in sterling shape. Fans of the guitarist’s progressive rock catalog will warm to “Loch Lomond” and the twelve minute epic “Turn This Island Earth;” the latter features guest bassist Chris Squire (of Yes). Squire also provides a contrapuntal bass part on symphonic prog song “Looking for Fantasy,” and lays down a sepulchral groove on “Catwalk,” a roiling blues-rock number that showcases Hackett’s soloing at its most hot-blooded. Amanda Lehman lends nimble vocals to three songs, while John Hackett duets with Steve on the pastoral psych pop piece “Between the Sunset and the Coconut Palms.” Longtime collaborator Roger King provides beautiful synth textures and keyboard playing throughout.
Hackett’s two brief acoustic guitar solo compositions, “Wanderlust” and “Summer’s Breath,” are tantalizing palette cleansers: one would love to hear them in expanded incarnations. For those wanting a concise “single-worthy” pop song, complete with Beatles-esque harmonic shifts and supple string arrangements, Hackett supplies “Til These Eyes.” Yes, Beyond the Shrouded Horizon is a stylistically omnivorous collection; but one that maintains high musical standards throughout.