If there was ever a doubt as to who was the actual heart, soul, and guiding force behind pioneering progressive rock giants THE NICE , EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER or the short-lived but excellent trio 3, than look no further than this latest project from keyboardist extraordinaire Keith Emerson … THE KEITH EMERSON BAND featuring MARC BONILLA.
Greg Lake’s choir boy vocals and songwriting skills may have helped catapult ELP to the top of the charts with ballads like “FROM THE BEGINNING” and “LUCKY MAN ”, but it was Keith Emerson’s signature Hammond organ, Custom Moog Modular Synthesizer, speaker rattling Pipe Organ, and Honky-tonk piano assaults that provided the lifeblood of the group.
The legacy of Keith Emerson goes far beyond his keyboard prowess on classic albums like TARKUS, TRILOGY, and BRAIN SALAD SURGERY, or elaborate on-stage antics; Keith Emerson legitimized the potential of keyboards as the lead instrument in the guitar dominated world of rock. And with the release of his latest album Emerson builds on this musical legacy with a collection of new material like the 35 minute suite “THE HOUSE OF OCEAN BORN MARY” (inspired by a ghost story from Marion Lowndes), a recycled supercharged rendition of the ELP favorite “THE BARBARIAN”, and even an unrecorded tune ELP performed on their last tour “CROSSING THE RUBICON” now entitled “THE ART OF FALLING DOWN”. And Emerson’s penchant for reinterpreting the classics is displayed on the track “MALAMBO” - an interpretation of ESTANCIA SUITE by Alberto Ginastera.
After the lackluster final ELP release “IN THE HOT SEAT” it appears this collaboration with guitarist Marc Bonilla has re-energized Emerson. “THE KEITH EMERSON BAND” is the most satisfying album (start-to-finish) since the under-rated 1986 release “EMERSON, LAKE & POWELL”. The strong vocal style of Bonilla is closer to John Wetton than Greg Lake – but then again Greg Lake replaced Wetton for a short stint in ASIA , and Wetton recorded several Greg Lake KING CRIMSON tunes, so I guess you could say Wetton and Lake are somewhat interchangeable and Bonilla has the best attributes of both, making him a perfect vocalist for Emerson.
Bonilla is also a smoking guitarist, complimenting and counter pointing Emerson without overshadowing him. His songwriting skills provide the group with power ballads like “MILE’S AWAY (parts 1-3)”, “THE PARTING” and “A PLACE TO HIDE” harkening back to ELP ’s chart topping heyday. These Bonilla penned power ballads are comparable to catchy hook laden ASIA -style melodies composed by Robert Berry for the 3 album “TO THE POWER OF THREE”.
Rounding out the band are Greg Bissonette on drums and percussion and Bob Birch on bass; with additional musicians Travis Davis (bass), Joe Travers (drums), Keith Wechsler (Jew’s harp), and Nathanial Bonilla (recorder). THE KEITH EMERSON BAND belongs in a place of honor right alongside the other CDs in your ELP collection. A perfect 10 out of 10 rating. Highly Recommended
SIDE NOTE: Unfortunately the good news of his latest recording is marred by the devastating news of Keith Emerson’s current state of health. In a letter posted by Emerson on his website he announced the cancellation of his upcoming tour to promote the new album (also thwarting any plans for a future ELP reunion) due to the aggravation of pre-existing injuries to his right hand resulting in severe nerve damage and dystonic factor. He hopes his current course of treatment will eventually get him back to form. Speaking for us all - I wish him well.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on May 23rd, 2009