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Keith Emerson - Honky CD (album) cover


Keith Emerson


Crossover Prog

2.94 | 52 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Play that funky music white boy

During a time which Emerson later described as that of 'zero pressure' in the aftermath of ELP's burial on Love Beach, our keyboard hero stayed on in the Bahamas to top up his tan, hide from Lester Bangs and 'soak up' some of the local hospitality. Inside those precious few little windows he had in his already busy itinerary, Keith also found time to dash off a solo album at a local recording studio to which he had unlimited access in return for helping the owners modernise the facility.

The mood here is understandably relaxed, as there was no hot breath on the back of the Emerson neck from inquisitive and anxious record companies to cramp his style and the result is a collection of 'hobbyist' tunes which pay homage to his earliest inspiration i.e boogie-woogie, jazz, classical and blues.

Hello Sailor Intro - The limitations of the recording studio are evident here immediately and the sound quality is only on a par with a semi-pro establishment. Despite that, the album has a very pleasing lo-fi grunt about it which seems to suit the aged choice of materials covered. Considering the sterility of so many 80's recordings, the grainy earthiness of Honky is a pleasure avalanche in comparison. The plaintive and stately guitar on this short mood setter is provided by the session engineer Mott who segues us into the next track with a very effective pattern of guitar harmonics a la Rush's Lifeson.

Bach Before the Mast - If Jacques Loussier was ever in the habit of going to fancy dress parties dressed as a pirate, getting hammered on rum and being asked to "give us a tune on the old joanna matey" then this is just what might have resulted. There are some sadistic contrapuntal demands in this George Malcolm piano fugue that beggars belief but Emerson rises to the challenge and puts in a magnificent performance by choosing (wisely) to postpone the introduction of any jazz or blues licks until the resultant finale.

Hello Sailor Finale - This one will certainly be picked up on any auditing proghead's radar and is perhaps the most overtly progressive track on the album. The aforementioned Mott contributes some tasteful and economic lead guitar on a jazz fusion treatment of the earlier Malcolm baroque material. This is a very busy and skilled arrangement which never sits idle for long but the rhythm section of Kendall Stubbs bass and Frank Scully's drums never allow the infectious groove to get lost for a second. Have sea shanties ever sounded this cool? In less astute hands this could have degenerated into the Pirates of Penzance as envisaged by Chick Corea.

Salt Cay - I think this was the theme music written by Keith for an Italian TV show. The Korg beasties that he was using at around this time are well to the fore together with some greasy organ that lends the piece a bluesy Jimmy Smith feel. The ending theme stated on chirpy synth over an irresistible start/stop groove will stick resolutely inside your head for months to come. We meet here the local Junkanoo percussion indigenous to the Bahamas which permeates the mix subtly and unobtrusively, giving Emerson's music a hitherto unprecedented funky edge.

Green Ice - This was part of the rejected score that Emerson submitted for the movie of the same name, and considering that Bill Wyman's offering won the day, this track made the decision by the film producers an even easier one. It just sounds plain contrived from start to finish, with a cramped groove that never gets airborne and wheezes under a flimsy and disjointed structure. Did Keith receive the wrong script in the mail and write the cheesy chanted jungle vocals befitting a production starring Carmen Miranda in the role of a cross-dressing Tarzan?. Shame really, as his piano soloing is excellent on the jazz fusion sections while his collaborators continue to lend robust support despite the weakness of the underlying ideas.

Intro-juicing - Some people only sing when they're drunk, and others drink because we've heard them.

Big Horn Breakdown - Not sure who wrote the original but it might possibly have been Billy Taylor? The renowned Dick Morrisey (If, Alexis Corner etc) contributes a playful and jesting sax solo here and it is obvious that the whole ensemble are having loads of fun in the process. Once again the Junkanoo percussion arsenal lends this familiar style an interesting and innovative texture. Very few of the prog keyboard giants apart from Keith have ever tackled boogie-woogie convincingly and it should be evident by now that the required feel and phrasing are subtly elusive and take considerable dedication to master. Many other celebrated technicians make it sound like 'Status Quo for piano'.

Yancey Special - An instalment of Keith's acknowledged debt to the early masters of 'primitive piano' is repaid here on a joyous romp through a Meade Lux Lewis construction sourced from one of Jimmy Yancey's left hand boogie patterns. Yep, Emo could probably play this sort of thing in his sleep but nevertheless, his consummate feel and the infectious energy that radiates from all the players on this number is exactly what you hear from your speakers.

Rum a Ting - The Junkanoo percussion is featured prominently on a rhythm section intro before we head off into some more delightful jazz fusion territory boasting a memorable main theme and some eloquent dialogue between Emerson's percussive electric piano and the sinewy hired muscle that is Stubbs and Scully. The 'wooping' synth exclamation marks towards the end are a real goose bump raiser.

Chickcharnie - The bottom of the barrel would have represented the ceiling for Emerson on this 'disco' piano abomination utilising a melodic seed from the Nighthawks soundtrack. Like having your ears syringed (with wax).

Jesus Loves Me - Oh lordy...has Emerson gone and done a Dylan on us? Relax, this is just a misguided but sincere attempt at transferring the joyous abandon of a Caribbean gospel church service to the recording studio. Aided and abetted by what sounds like the Bahamas Ladies (Male) Voice Choir, Keith makes a decent stab at it ('scuse the pun) but as spirited and energetic as all this is, his self consciousness at being in such unfamiliar territory is betrayed by an uncharacteristically aimless and ragged solo that drags on too long. A failed experiment but one I am glad he attempted as it shows an adventurous spirit still burns even on such a relatively conservative album as this one.

As 'PA' have gone to the trouble of placing Keith's solo output quite appropriately in the Crossover Prog category, I am always puzzled at the dismissive tenor of so many of the reviews of these albums. I do admit that his career outside ELP has been very patchy but we seem to be falling into the trap of appraising this music by what is does not contain instead of what it does. Yes, there are no twenty minute bombastic, technical and conceptual pieces on this record. Would any of us throw the same barb at Peter Gabriel, Supertramp, Talk Talk, Procul Harum, the Moody Blues or (gulp) Radiohead?

Thought not.

My Dad likes this album, and he hates everything (Nuff said)

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |


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