Keith Emerson: Honky (1981)

keith emerson

If one were feeling sarcastic, one might suggest that Honky, progressive keyboardist Keith Emerson‘s solo album from 1981, should have been titled Prog-Rockers in Paradise. While Honky is far from a Jimmy Buffett-style affair, it most certainly isn’t the austere, almost solemn affair of Emerson’s work with Emerson, Lake &  Palmer; if anything, the record is jaunty, playful, and esoteric in its style. Sure, the first three songs are variations of Bach, built around a cheekily-titled number, “Bach Before The Mast.” “Salt Clay” and “Green Ice” are funky, synth-led doodles that make McCartney II sound positively genius. Better are the songs on side two, especially covers of Billy Taylor‘s “Big Horn Breakdown” and Meade “Lux” Lewis’ “Yancey Special”–two New Orleans jazz piano numbers that are treated quite reverently, with Emerson showing his expertise on traditional American fare. “Rum-A-Ting” and “Chickcharne” are two original numbers which blend Caribbean rhythms with synths and, erm, disco, to come up with a sound that proves the smart-ass alternate title isn’t far off the mark. They’re light, they’re different, and oddly compelling listening. Emerson would state that though this record might not be a highlight, it was a pleasant experience for him, as he enjoyed the album’s lightheartedness. It’s easy to understand why.

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