Emitt Rhodes – Rainbow Ends (review)

Emitt Rhodes – Rainbow Ends (Omnivore) review

After a 40-year absence, a master tunesmith returns

Rhodes may not be on your radar, but he should be. A promising songwriter in the early Seventies, he released a string of highly-praised albums that, for some reason, didn’t sell (if you’re a fan of Beatlesque pop – these are essential listening). After an ugly battle with his record company, he walked away mid-decade, vowing never to do music again. It took the prodding of several younger musicians to coax the reclusive Rhodes out of retirement.
The fact that we’re talking about a new album from Rhodes is pretty amazing. That Rainbow Ends is an incredible collection of songs, ranking up there with his finest work, is nothing short of a miracle. Since we haven’t heard from him in 40 years, you’d figure his voice had changed a little, and it has – for the better. No longer yielding the bright tenor, Rhodes now sings in a warm, deep resonating style that has a magnetic quality he did not possess in his youth.

The optimism of “Fresh as a Daisy,” his 1970 shoulda-been-a-hit, is not surprisingly replaced by a more mature, sobering outlook. But, even when he’s describing a suffocating relationship, as on the opener, “Dog on a Chain,” it’s still backed by his gorgeous melodic sense. The bluesy “If I Knew Then” recalls Tin Pan Alley, while “I Can’t Tell My Heart” also features dark lyrics, but the chorus is really infectious. Buried near the end is “Friday’s Love,” the album’s best track. Led by a Rhodes piano, percussive guitar and a gentle beat, it sounds straight out of 1979, and probably would’ve been a hit had it been released back then. Taylor Locke (of Rooney) provides this fantastic, soaring solo that gives you goosebumps.

Rhodes was known for playing every instrument on his classic albums, but here he lets many of his disciples do the backing – and it’s a venerable who’s who of the Power Pop genre: from Jason Falkner and Roger Manning of Jellyfish, to the aforementioned Locke, and Chris Price, who convinced Rhodes to return to music again. Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles and Aimee Mann provide backing vocals.

Rainbow Ends is an absolute triumph and a welcome return of a fantastic talent. —Tony Peters