Tuesday 10 October 2023

Trevor Rabin - Rio (2023)

Country: South Africa
Style: Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 6 Oct 2023
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Wikipedia

I don't know where Eigenflame are from, beyond the country of Brazil. Maybe they're from Rio but what's clear is that Trevor Rabin isn't. He's from South Africa, though he moved to London and Los Angeles to further his career, which of course he did because he's the same Trevor Rabin who spent a dozen years in Yes and plenty more as the composer of scores for movies of the calibre of Con Air, Armageddon and National Treasure, to name just three blockbusters. His solo albums mostly sit in the previous millennium, but he released the instrumental Jacaranda in 2012 after a twenty-three year gap and this sixth solo album arrives eleven further years on.

I don't know why it's called Rio, but it's bright and bombastic like a Rio carnival from moment one with Big Mistakes featuring layers of vocals, a surprisingly edgy guitar solo and a la la la section to wrap things up. It's definitely commercial but it also has bite, like a very pretty venomous snake. It works wonderfully as an opener, but Push adds intricate prog chops right off the bat and escalates substantially. It's a gem of a piece, a variety of instruments dancing off in what seem like different directions but still sounding fantastic together. It's a masterpiece of arrangement choreography.

For all its instrumental flamboyance, Push is a song with a voice delivering lyrics and Oklahoma is keen to underline that, the instrumentation still a little intricate but mostly serving to build those vocals until the guitar solo can take flight. It's much more subdued than Push but it's still a big and brash number that screams for volume. We fly along with it until we realise just how much is going on beneath it and start to truly pay attention. I don't know how long Rabin has been chipping away at this album, but it feels like it's been gifted with a serious amount of time and attention.

Most of that work was done by Rabin, not just because he's the songwriter but because he plays an impressive majority of the instruments. All the work on guitar and bass is him, and the keyboards. He sings lead vocals throughout and adds backing vocals on all but one track, many of these songs are collaborations between his voices. He provides drums and percussion for four tracks, with Lou Molino stepping in for four more and Vinnie Colaiuta for one more. He adds mandolin on three of these songs and banjo and dobro on two. That just leaves Charlie Bisharat's violin on Push and the backing vocals of Dante Marchi and Liz Constantine on a couple of tracks.

A lot of these tracks evolve like that, because Rabin is working from a very broad canvas here. The core sound is pop/rock with a heavy side of prog, but he moves in a number of musical directions on this one and often against our expectations. Paradise, for instance, starts out as a country stomp but evolves into a vocal harmony, with both those backing vocalists on board. Goodbye is a good ol' hoedown of a country rock song. Tumbleweed starts out almost like the Beach Boys, entirely vocal (albeit with effects) for well over a minute. These Tears goes for a grand Pink Floyd sweep. There's lots of Paul Simon on Egoli, a song that wouldn't be out of place on his Graceland album. And Toxic wraps things up as a jagged blues number that turns into something else again.

You might expect that all this admirable genre-hopping might make the album a little incoherent, but very little of it jars. Mostly it feels like Rabin's exploring a lot of musical territory but trawling it into a consistent core sound, every departure adding a little something before he brings it back in to the core. Only perhaps Goodbye and Egoli really stay somewhere else and I'd call the latter a highlight, along with Push and Paradise, three very different songs to lump together.

And the overall result is strong. This is perky and persistent and it gets under your skin. Every time we think it might settle into something soft and AOR, it does something unexpected and suddenly we're intricate prog territory again and we wonder why we ever thought it might settle. It has no interest in doing that. This is Rabin having fun on his own terms and turning out something that's surprisingly commercial for an album as versatile as it is. I have clear favourites, if not clear least favourites, but I think this is a safe 8/10. Three listens in, it's just as strong as it started out and as colourful as its cover art.

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