Keith Emerson - Honky

(CD 2013/ 1981, 43:50, Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2419)

The tracks:
  1- Hello Sailor
         - a. Introduction
         - b. Bach Before The Mast
         - c. Hello Sailor Finale
  2- Salt Cay
  3- Green Ice
  4- Intro- Juicing
  5- Big Horn Breakdown
  6- Yancey Special
  7- Rum-A-Ting
  8- Chickcharmie
  9- Jesus Loves Me

Website      Esoteric Recordings

One of the most important British progressive rock bands of the seventies were Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP). They disbanded for the first time in 1979. In 1985 keyboard player Keith Emerson and vocalist, guitarist and bassist Greg Lake formed a new version of ELP, but this time drummer Carl Palmer was replaced by Cozy Powell. Between 1979 and 1985 all band members were engaged in various projects. Keith Emerson recorded several soundtracks and in 1981 he recorded his first official solo album called Honky. This album has got an excellent remastered version in 2013. Not only the music sounds better, but also the information inside the booklet with new liner notes, pictures and line-ups is top-notch!

Honky was recorded in the Bahamas and 'honky' is what the local children called Keith while he was there! The pictures inside the booklet show that Emerson's stay there was primarily a holiday, so this album was recorded in a relaxed, carefree spirit. For this record Emerson used the following instruments: Yamaha CP30, MiniMoog, Hammond C3, Korg 3100 & 3300, Steinway concert grand model D, Yamaha grand and a vocoder. Emerson isn't the only musician who can be heard on Honky. He got some assistance from Kendall Stubbs (bass), Neil Seymonette and Frank Scully (drums), Mott (guitar), Andrew Brennen, Dick Morrissey and Pete King (all on saxophone) and Shelley Lightbourner and The Kayla Lockhart Singers (vocals).

The album certainly contains some fine musical moments which can be enjoyed by lovers of prog rock. Especially the album's opener Hello Sailor is an amazing piece of music. This is a kind of mini-suite divided into three pieces called Introduction, Bach Before The Mast and Hello Sailor Finale. This suite comes closest to what Keith Emerson is famous for with the albums he recorded with ELP. The first part is performed on the piano and tends towards a style that can be heard on albums such as Brain Salad Surgery (1973) and Works, volume 1 (1977). Bach Before The Mast written by the British pianist George Malcolm is an arranged version which holds some classical influences. Salt Cay is also worthwhile listening to. The song contains some reworked themes from ELP's Pirates from the album Works, volume 1, written by Emerson for an Italian TV show.

Green Ice is a kind of fusion; this composition was part of a rejected score that Emerson wrote for the eponymous movie. I think that Honky contains tracks that Emerson just recorded for fun. Listen for instance to Intro-juicing. I don't know whether he was drunk at the time he recorded it, but he speaks and sings rather funny. He even introduced himself as a DJ. Big Horn Breakdown is another rather silly tune with a kind of honky-tonk piano playing style and this also applies to the funny boogie-woogie sounding piece Yancey Special. You could describe this track as being ' Status Quo for piano' since it holds all the elements you can hear on their greatest hits. Only the saxophone has replaced the heavy riffing guitars.

Rum A Ting is a piece of music you either like or hate depending whether you like Caribbean music or not. The junkanoo percussion is used prominently here; in a way it reminded me of Teakbois by Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe on their eponymous album (1989, see review). The funniest track on the album is probably Jesus Loves Me. This kind of gospel song sounds as if it was recorded at a local church in the Bahamas completely with a gospel choir and a reverend. You can't take this song too seriously, I guess!

The mixture of serious and funny tunes on Emerson's first official solo album won't be liked by all prog heads. I think many people who listened to the album for the first time must have been disappointed. They probably expected the kind of music which Emerson made with ELP. However, I had no problem at all and I still enjoy Honky!

*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)

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