I guess my first acquaintance with Rik Emmett was when I bought Triumph's Rock 'n' Roll Machine as a special vinyl edition. This was the beginning of a long term relationship; meaning, I would buy every album they released without even listening before the purchase, for I was just confident about the presented music. The main reason for being a loyal buyer were the amazing guitar skills Rik Emmett displayed as well as the fine combination of the high vocals of the aforementioned with drummer Gil Moore's power voice. Over the years I really became to appreciate the more delicate songs Triumph had written; Suitcase Blues still is one of the most intense songs for me. When Rik went his own way, I kept buying his solo CDs, but due to musical differences and the fact his albums became hard to get, I missed a large number of his solos albums. A while ago I became aware of the upcoming release of a new Rik Emmett album, published on the blues laden label Provogue. Time for me to reconnect with an old hero of mine.
RES9 refers to the accompanying band that has been backing up Rik for a while now, guitarist Dave Dunlop, bass player and keyboard player Steve Skingley and drummer Paul DeLong. I realize the album is heavily drenched into the blues, but for the progressive rock fans there are two special guests, who should be enough to convince you to at least listen to the album, although buying certainly is the better choice here. There we go, long-time friend and fellow Canadian guitarist Alex Lifeson; no introduction needed, participates on two of the songs on RES9. The other guest is Dream Theater's Kevin James LaBrie, who shares the vocal duties in two compositions. I guess the icing on the cake comes from the final track on the album; a sort of reunion of the good old times, when Triumph relives their glory in its original form; Rik Emmett on guitar and vocals, Gil Moore on drums and Mike Levine on bass. The trio is assisted by both Dunlop and Skingley, to get the record straight.
Like I said, the album has a strong blues driven base, as you can witness during the opener Stand Still. Here the power blues is combined with the rock of Rik's older records, ending up being a fine accessible blues, hard rock song, topped with Rik's still impressive and distinguished voice. The following Human Race is a catchy classic rock type composition. Here Alex Lifeson's electric twelve string can be enjoyed, alongside a tasty solo by Dunlop. Too bad Lifeson's contribution doesn't stand out as much as I was hoping for during this still pretty impressive song. A typical Emmett composition is the emotional I Sing, where James LaBrie handles parts of the lead vocals. James' contribution to this song makes me realize what a fantastic vocalist Rik still is, although the dual vocal parts do not disappoint me. In the end it turns out to be an amazing song that really sticks. With My Cathedral, The Ghost Of Shadow Town and When You Were My Baby, the band returns to melodic, jazzy blues; the impressive kind. Due to Rik's higher vocals the bluesy touch could be compared to Robben Ford, just for the reason both vocalists don't find themselves in the smoky, desperate area, but display a kind of positiveness that basically contradicts with the style. A bit too simplistic is Sweet Tooth, a short track, where the vocals absolutely shine, but as a composition not the most challenging song on the album. Much more solid and powerful is Heads Up, a cool up-tempo rocker, that takes you back to the early solo albums of Emmett, or even some of the Triumph albums. Rest Of My Life also is a strong catchy rocker, where Rik leaves the guitar duties to his musical compadre Dunlop, so he can focus on his wonderful vocal parts. The album's highlight comes with the blues rock style End Of The Line, where Lifeson guests with a solid guitar solo and LaBrie succeeds to challenge Emmet during the vocal parts. This almost jam style composition is an absolutely brilliant track, I would have been very happy if there were more songs like this one on RES9. The final track Grand Parade does surprise me. Where I expected a powerful reunion, we get a Suitcase Blues reminding composition. Again I bow my head and honour Mr. Emmet for this track, but I did not see this coming. Listening to Grand Parade makes me close my eyes and let the music gently take me back in time to my teens, when I came to appreciate that typical tune so much.
Rik Emmett's career always showed us a fine combination of classic rock, delicate blues and subtle jazz parts. RES9 still has all of those elements, but the blues part has become more prominent than before. Something I will not complain about, for I still am a sucker for Rik's vocals and the way he plays his guitar. RES9 is perhaps not the most progressive rock album of this year, but it is still a very solid album, that should appeal to the fans who used to listen to Triumph as well as to people who like the bluesy jazz or jazzy blues of musicians like Robben Ford. The bonus comes with the participation of some incredible guest musicians.
****+ Pedro Bekkers (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
Where to buy?
All Rights Reserved Background Magazine 2017