EMITT RHODES @ THE GRAMMY MUSEUM
Want to know how Emitt Rhodes’ voice sounds live, after 43 years of virtual isolation in his parents’ garage in Hawthorne?
So still do I, and so do the dozens of folks who flew in from across the country to see him perform at this very special Grammy Museum showcase. Obstinate to a fault—as I learned the hard way some years back—Rhodes claimed he had the flu, which explains why he didn’t sing a lot, but not why he could do an entire Q&A interview beforehand with radio commentator Steve Hochman with a full-bodied voice, yet leave every single note of lead vocal duties to producer Chris Price, who looked a little embarrassed as he led a crack band of guitarists, violinists, backup singers, bemused bassists and hip-looking tambourine players—plural—through classics like “Fresh as a Daisy” with Rhodes only playing a muted rhythm guitar off to the side, as well as songs from the new album The Rainbow Ends.
Thank god that Price’s voice is pretty damn good, and more importantly, that the songwriting was so transcendent. It’s the kind that in the past had made for great recordings by artists as diverse as Fairport Convention and the Bangles and Jon Brion: a good songwriter’s work will carry weight no matter who sings it. And that goes double for the new tunes, ditties about divorce and aging arranged lovingly by Price, I assume, who also helped Linda Perhacs with her wonderful renaissance a few years back by producing her first new album in four decades.
The songs, both new and old, seemed almost too wise to have been written by this man, the 66-year-old version of Emitt Rhodes who answered questions from his beloved fans almost in Warholian fashion, with one-syllable replies or non-sequiturs or denials that there was anything special or compelling or deep about his work at all.
But I guess becoming cantankerous is how you cope with the surreal fact that cream, despite what anyone tells you, does NOT rise to the top. Rhodes was a young boy who came of age as a hit-maker with the Merry-Go-Round and came into manhood via a series of increasingly wonderful solo albums, each of which produced diminishing returns for his own life, both financially and personally. (Eventually they led to a sad day job engineering other albums for Elektra Records artists, some of whom had a tenth of his talents.) Perhaps it’s silly for us to think that he could so easily jump back into things and get up and sing his heart out for a public that never rewarded him for stepping foot outside his house.
But by the end of the night, when the new songs got a standing ovation and people lined up thick as bricks throughout the museum’s gift shop to get their albums and memorabilia signed by Rhodes, I definitely detected a warmth in Rhodes’s face that seemed encouraging. Considering how amazing the new cuts from The Rainbow Ends are—and how many guest singers/performers (including Jon Brion, and Susanna Hoffs and Aimee Mann and Kristian Hoffman) appear on the album who would probably love to sit in with him on upcoming performances—here’s hoping Price and the gang help Rhodes finally tame that lion that’s been eating at him for so damn long. New audiences await.