The Emitt Rhodes Recordings (1969-1973), by Emitt Rhodes
This particular two-cd collection of songs by the obscure but vitally important singer-songwriter-producer Emitt Rhodes costs a ridiculous amount of money to buy in physical copies. However, it now appears on Spotify, so I was able to listen to the more than two hours of music contained in the 48 songs that made up the four albums that Emitt Rhodes made between 1969 and 1973 before taking a long hiatus as a recording artist that would last until just a few years before his death. Considering the massive amount of music that is here, it gives an idea of just what sort of music was lurking beneath the surface that would later help inspire the indie pop movement where similar one-man bands wrote songs, sang them, and played just about every instrument on them while also producing them. If this did not make for an obvious way to chart successful albums and singles at the time, it was enormously influential on future artists, and it was an approach that is worthy of respect.
With as many songs as appear here, it is remarkable that they don’t just all run together given that they were such a personal creation. “Mary Will You Take My Hand” has beautiful steel drums that give the song a Caribbean feel. “In The Days Of Old” has lovely horns and trumpet to add to the instrumentation. “With My Face On The Floor” has a driving piano and guitar with multitracked vocals and is simply a should-have been massive hit. “Promises I’ve Made” has an ominous instrumental bridge. “Ever Find Yourself Running” has a beautiful woodwinds sound to it. “Birthday Lady” has some fuzzy guitars, as does “My Love Is Strong.” “Really Wanted You” experiments with some interesting rhythm guitar. “Warm Self-Sacrifice” has a rather simple piano melody. “Drawn To You” features a beautiful saxophone part. “Blue Horizon” has a lovely mandolin part. “Nights Are Lonely” has an interesting closing instrumental melody. “Bad Man” has a slinky saxophone part to go along with its material. “Farewell To Paradise” has a bittersweet harmonica part. When one is listening to two hours of concentrated material by a singer songwriter, these are the sorts of things that draw attention to the way that Rhodes added appropriate instrumentation as a way of expressing the theme and content of the music he was making.
When listening to this material, it is hard not to feel that this songwriter should be vastly better known than he is. This material is so gorgeous, so well written and so well performed and produced that it is hard to believe how obscure this material has been since its creation. This two-album set is made up of four albums that were released by the artist in a four-year period in which he was contractually obligated to make two albums a year, a pace he could not keep up given he was doing nearly everything himself. Still, if you are fond of indie pop and the diy aesthetic in that sort of music, this collection has an immensely beautiful sound to it and many of the songs are filled with a touching mixture of hard-won optimism, bittersweetness, and wistful melancholy with reflections on life, loneliness, love, and death. There is a lot here to savor, to ponder over and to enjoy.