Trevor Rabin - Rio

Trevor Rabin – Rio

This release came as something of a surprise. Trevor Rabin hasn’t made a proper solo album in years, preoccupied it seems with plenty of film soundtrack work, so it’s not like he’s been sitting around doing nothing! It’s a relief though that he has finally produced a rock album of actual songs, because he’s always proved in the past to be an interesting composer and extremely dexterous multi-instrumentalist. His first three solo albums (from 1977 to 1981) launched his career to critical acclaim, and then of course came his work with Yes, which gave the band a real shot in the arm at a time when they needed it most.

The new album, Rio, is instantly recognisable as the work of Rabin to anyone familiar with 90125, Big Generator, etc., which must be nearly everyone, I’d have thought! Unsurprisingly it is self-produced, and Rabin’s kitchen sink production style is immediately obvious. It might not appeal to all, but his clinical approach to achieving perfection with a busy sound palette and faultless technique dazzles from the outset. The vast majority of the sounds you hear are from Rabin; there is some support on drums (Lou Molino and Vinnie Colaiuta), violin on one song (Charlie Bisharat), and backing vocals on two songs (Dante Marchi and Liz Constantine), but everything else is him. The fact that he manages to make the resulting songs sound so coherent is remarkable, and his guitar playing and vocal prowess in particular shine through on virtually every track.

Big Mistakes kicks things off with a tumbling drum intro from Molino before a driving riff crashes in, and Rabin’s voice sounds as good as it was all those years ago. It’s a great and memorable song, full of hooks that wedge themselves in your head and aren’t going anywhere fast. The effects-laden guitar solo is so inventive and perfectly judged. Rather like the solo on Owner of a Lonely Heart, it’s not exactly subtle, but outrageous in its flamboyance and technical ability. There are wonderful supporting bass lines which make the song swing wonderfully. The production effects are startlingly good; near the end the song is interrupted by a phone ringing, Rabin groans, and immediately the song continues without missing a heartbeat. The guy has a sense of humour!

Push follows hard on the heels of the opener, and is even more complex in its construction, though very accessible. Tricky time signatures add to the difficulty of keeping up, though Vinnie Colaiuta does a superb job. Push is one of the proggier songs on offer, with mandolin and violin adding to the bewildering different textures in the mix, but it retains a gritty rocking persona throughout.

Oklahoma is widescreen and cinematic in approach, with a very orchestral feel. It has a simple but effective melody, and I defy you not to be singing along by the end. The chorus goes on forever, but it’s one of those you don’t really want to end. Eventually the sun sets on Oklahoma, but its beauty lasts long in the memory. Paradise follows, another song which could easily have sat happily on 90125. Vocoder style treated vocals introduce the song, and despite rather oblique lyrics, the guitar work is again dazzling in its dexterity and invention, and the vocal arrangements are complex but sumptuous in their multi-layered warmth, wrapping around your head beautifully. Then suddenly everything goes scat jazz on us, then morphs into some kind of Celtic ending. Bizarre but somehow, brilliant.

Thandi has an impossible riff which Rabin pulls off with apparent ease, although how many takes he needed is not known! The song settles into slower, more straightforward verses telling the story of a rescued white rhino, a touching tale of the poachers threatening the very existence of such beautiful creatures. In between the verses, however, the frenetic riff returns and all hell breaks loose once more, conjuring the impression of the desperate attempts of the rhino to escape the ivory hunters.

After the moving and exhausting Thandi, Goodbye is a bit of light relief in the form of Rabin’s attempt at country and western. It’s a style I frankly baulk at, but this is a humorous song played with typical panache and perfect musicianship, and I find myself smiling and nodding despite myself. Rabin’s guitar and banjo picking are amazing, and it’s a bit of fun after all.

Tumbleweed has a clever acapella intro, and is a rather touching love song, with tender guitar playing rather than the slick showmanship found elsewhere. These Tears continues the mood with another melancholy but heartfelt song. This mood contrasts with the upbeat and hopeful strains of Egoli. The vibe is unmistakably South African, and ‘eGoli’ is the local name for Johannesburg and means ‘place of gold’. It is clearly a song of hope for the future: “Help me up, I’m falling, help me hold this burden of change. Help me when I falter, wash away the rivers of pain.” It’s a song from the heart hoping for a better future for Rabin’s country of birth, and it’s another highlight on an album with many highlights. Finally, Toxic closes the record with a heavier rocker, a blues based song with jazz inflections, and more crazy treated guitar sounds as only Rabin can do. The soloing is inventive, mind-boggling even, and backed with layered vocal harmonies to die for. It’s typical Trevor Rabin, and it swings and rocks like there’s no tomorrow.

So, Trevor Rabin is back, and it’s a very welcome return. I can only hope it isn’t another dozen or so years before he makes a follow up, and it would be great to see him play live again, if these songs can be reproduced in a live setting. Well if anyone can do it, Trevor Rabin can. Do listen to Rio, it’s a real blast.

01. Big Mistakes (5:33)
02. Push (6:49)
03. Oklahoma (6:52)
04. Paradise (7:03)
05. Thandi (4:22)
06. Goodbye (5:11)
07. Tumbleweed (4:08)
08. These Tears (5:19)
09. Egoli (4:04)
10. Toxic (5:45)

Total Time – 55:06

Trevor Rabin – Guitar, Lead Vocals, Bass, Keyboards, Backing Vocals, Drums & Percussion (tracks 3,6,7 & 8), Mandolin (2,4 & 6), Banjo & Dobro (4 & 6)
Lou Molino – Drums & Percussion (tracks 1,4,5 & 9), Backing Vocals (4)
Vinnie Colaiuta – Drums & Percussion (track 2)
Charlie Bisharat – Violin (track 2)
Dante Marchi – Backing Vocals (tracks 1 & 4)
Liz Constantine – Backing Vocals (tracks 1 & 4)

Record Label: Burning Shed
Country of Origin: South Africa
Date of Release: 6th October 2023

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