Bubble 1981 / Esoteric 2013
Away from LP, Big E turns it loose and rolls his barrelhouse piano all over the place.
Given his prankster nature which made THE NICE and ELP shows and records so exciting, it’s a big surprise that Keith Emerson’s solo output tends to be serious – but here’s an exception to the rule. Laid down in a laidback mode in the Bahamas, “Honky” veered away from Emerson’s first two albums, film soundtracks, to cinematically hark back to the meister’s debut under his own name, 1976’s single “Honky Tonk Train Blues” – or his band’s “Pirates” for that matter. Hanging on to the seafaring theme, Keith composed a string of novelty, if tradition-rooted, pieces and spiced ’em with humorous tunes from both classical and jazz worlds, even engaging a quote from “I’ll See You in My Dreams” to render the result warmly hilarious.
The Englishman once again raided the repertoire of the “Train” writer Meade “Lux” Lewis, and this time it was “Yancey Special” that got a full-band rock steady upgrade topped with Dick Morrissey and Pete King’s saxes, yet George Malcolm’s “Bach Before The Mast” demonstrates a different approach, forming a central part of Emerson’s own “Hello Sailor” suite, which opens the album in a high-tide fashion. It starts with mordant piano chords washed by waves before the bass lets in the entire keyboards float that sails from solemn to playful at one fell swoop – not caught up by Greg Lake years earlier when Emerson wanted to try on the heavy sway on the baroque staple only to swing it with his Caribbean ensemble. The synthesizers splashes give the urgent OST reject “Green Ice” a fusion flavor folding into the carnival chant, and the same West Indian color chimes in at the heart of Billy Taylor’s “Big Horn Breakdown” as the barrelhouse piano flicks the ragtime on and off
“Salt Cay” is all ’80s, though, its duel between a Hammond and Mini-Moog funky and somehow plastic until ska kicks in to crook the jive right, but the electronically-processed calypso motions make “Rum-A-Ting” lose the impetus which is picked up towards its proggy end. Fortunately, art rock informs the short piano concerto “Chickcharnie” to take up such a slack in a rollicking, drums-infested way. The mood gets so devil-may-care here that the joint-ripping gospel “Jesus Love Me” seems very logical, as the ivory armory lifts vocal harmonies beyond the pastiche. Not the best Keith Emerson’s work, “Honky” is his most honestly jolly.