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The Wall Street Journal on Emitt Rhodes

November 12, 2015

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Photo by Greg Allen


Emitt Rhodes Returns After Four Decades With ‘Dog on a Chain’ (Exclusive Song).”

It’s not that Emitt Rhodes was ever fully forgotten, but nearly 43 years between albums is a long time to remember. The Los Angeles singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist returns after an absence of more than four decades with “Dog on a Chain,” the first song from Rainbow Ends, his first album since 1973. The track premieres today on Speakeasy.

Praised back then for a sophisticated pop sensibility, Rhodes picks up where he left off, turning a song about a nasty divorce into an effortless meditation on heartache and loss, complete with a lingering melodic hook, airy vocal harmonies from Aimee Mann and a guitar solo from Jon Brion.

“Dog on a Chain” was one of maybe 20 songs Rhodes had cataloged in manila envelopes, where he stuck the ideas he started, but never finished, in the years after he released “Farewell to Paradise” in 1973. It was his fourth solo album after a stint playing in the late-’60s band the Merry-Go-Round. An onerous recording contract and disappointing commercial sales made it the last album he was willing to make.

“I worked very hard, and it was as if I wasn’t working hard enough,” Rhodes says. I just burned out, is what I did.”

He worked as a recording engineer for years, renting out his home studio and running the equipment in it, until he shut it all down. “When you spend the day working on somebody else’s project, you don’t work on yours,” he says.

After shuttering the studio, he began writing again, funneling ideas into envelopes that he set aside. What prompted him to resume sketching out songs? “It was a broken heart,” he says, quietly. “It’s always a broken heart.”

When Rhodes first met Price, he declined the younger musician’s request to help Price make his own album. Yet the two became friends, and six or seven years later, Rhodes began playing Price songs he had written. “I expected great melodies and well-constructed lyrics, but I was floored by how much raw feeling was in these songs,” Price says.

Rhodes agreed to try making an album. Though he was known back in the day for playing all the instruments on his albums himself, Rhodes recorded the 11 songs on “Rainbow Ends” with a band that included Price, Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Jason Falkner of Jellyfish (who are part of Beck’s current band), Rooney guitarist Taylor Locke and New Pornographers drummer Joe Seiders, with contributions from musicians including Mann, Brion, Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles and Nels Cline and Pat Sansone of Wilco.

After so many years away, Rhodes has modest expectations for the new album. “I hope people like it. That’s about it,” he says. “It would be nice to have it be successful, but if somebody likes it, then I’m successful.”

What about the possibility of another album after Rainbow Ends? “I have more envelopes,” Rhodes says.

Rainbow Ends is due Feb. 26 on Omnivore Recordings. What do you think of “Dog on a Chain?” Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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