TREVOR RABIN – Rio (Album Review)

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Yes, the rumors are true: Trevor Rabin has returned in 2023 with a full-on rock album for the first time in nearly 30 years. Primarily known for revitalizing the band Yes in 1983 (though he had wished that project to have kept its original name of “Cinema”), Rabin was already a young superstar in his native country of South Africa thanks to his band Rabbit. After bringing the prog rock titans into the 80s with hook-laden chart-topping hits, he ventured into the world of scoring film soundtracks, and by 1995 he had left the rock world behind as he worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. It was meant to be a temporary detour, but nearly 50 soundtracks later it appeared to have taken over his professional career. 

Not until he rejoined Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson in 2016 for a series of live dates did Rabin start to remember his love of rock performance and recording. There had been a brief flirtation in 2012 with an instrumental album “Jacaranda”, but it took getting on stage over the course of 200 gigs for him to truly get his chops back – especially vocally. His passion reignited, Rabin hung a “Gone Fishin” sign on his Hollywood door for two years while he crafted a new vocal rock album, feeling as if he was recording for the very first time. 

Of course, this wasn’t his first time. With a vast wealth of experience and talent at his side, Rabin has unleashed an astonishingly strong and diverse collection of songs. In some ways, it feels like he hasn’t skipped a beat since his last solo rock album “Can’t Look Away”, and the two albums do share much in common. However, Rabin sounds even stronger now on the fretboard and microphone than he did in 1989. Incredibly, he found that his vocal range had increased after the ARW tour, and he dazzles on all guitars, basses and keyboards throughout this album, along with playing drums and percussion on several tracks. The stage was set for a blazing collection of songs and that’s exactly what Rabin has delivered. 

To call this a vocal rock album is a massive understatement. It’s a vocal playground, each song layered with dozens of backing harmony vocals. Often that occurs in Rabin’s classic trademark choruses, like on “Big Mistakes” but he goes much further in “Paradise” and “Egoli” with layered jaunty vocal sections and unexpected passing vocal riffs which pay off with repeated listenings. “Tumbleweed” takes things to the next harmonic level, however, with a cappella intro, unlike anything we’ve heard from Rabin before (though fans of Moon Safari will be able to relate). 

Rio Album Artwork

Musically, “Rio” is deliciously all over the map. There’s a heavy jazz element just waiting to break out whenever the listener is getting lulled with AOR-friendly choruses, like at the end of “Paradise” or towards the end of the smooth ballad “Tumbleweed”. Country & western is firmly represented by “Goodbye”, taking Led Zeppelin’s “Hotdog” oddity and one-upping it as Rabin shows off his chicken picking licks that he mastered at a much younger age. The success of “Rio” lies in how various styles are merged, so “Goodbye” effortlessly shifts from a foot-stomping hoedown to one of the album’s best rock choruses, and then back again. “Toxic” offers Rabin’s guitar a chance to blaze away over a bluesy shuffle, a style we rarely get to hear from him but in which he yet again completely dominates. 

Societal and political issues are at the forefront of the lyrics, though you often wouldn’t know it from the sunny, inspirational music underneath. “Thandi” opens to rhino calls and the Indian form of vocal rhythm, Konnokol, which is promptly replicated on the guitar. The terror of Ivory tusk poachers is the main theme, laid out by the scorching guitar work and enveloping chorus. “Oklahoma” takes a completely different approach, easily the most cinematic song on the album which is used to explore the Capitol’s 1995 bombing tragedy. Acoustic and electric guitars weave a spirited web throughout the song, as Rabin’s vocals approach a Bruce Cockburn melodic treatment. Its orchestration rings fresh for a rock album but is clearly in familiar territory for Rabin thanks to his soundtrack work. “Push” is a protest song of sorts, too, decrying the injustices done through corruption and political deception, even as Vinnie Colouita drives a 12/8 time signature through his drum kit and tabla (which were played in 5/8). 

Rabin’s top-tier production masterfully supports the thick arrangements, which is crucial given the level of musicality on display. This may not be prog music on one hand, but its mix of rock, world, jazz, country, blues, pop and symphonic certainly deems it to be progressive music at its best. While ARW fans may be disappointed that no studio recording resulted from that outing, Rabin proves that when given the freedom to create on his own terms, the inspiration is ever-flowing. Fortunately, he promises that much more will follow, whether it’s live touring, additional rock albums, or perhaps even a duet album with Wakeman. Hollywood’s loss is our gain but to be fair, they’ve had him for 30 years and now it’s our turn again. 

Released By: Inside Out Music
Release Date: October 6th, 2023
Genre:  Progressive Rock

“Rio” track-listing:

1. Big Mistakes
2. Push
3. Oklahoma
4. Paradise
5. Thandi
6. Goodbye
7. Tumbleweed
8. These Tears
9. Egoli
10. Toxic

Line-up / Musicians:

  • Trevor Rabin / Guitar, lead vocals, bass, keyboards on all tracks, drums and percussion on tracks 3,6,7 & 8, mandolin on tracks 2,4,6, banjo & dobro on tracks 4 & 6, backing vocals on all tracks except 3
  • Lou Molino / Drums and percussion on tracks 1,4,5 & 9. Backing vocals on track 4
  • Vinnie Colaiuta / Drums and percussion on track 2
  • Charlie Bisharat / Violin on track 2
  • Dante Marchi / Backing vocals on track 1 & 4
  • Liz Constantine / Backing vocals on tracks 1 & 4

Pre-order “Rio” HERE.

9.5 Excellent

Acting as if the past 30 years never happened, Trevor Rabin soars back into the rock world with this inspired follow up to 1989’s solo outing “Can’t Look Away”. An extremely diverse collection of songwriting styles is matched by his peerless performance, featuring his impressively strong vocals. From a guitar, vocal, songwriting and production standpoint, “Rio” is a masterclass. Let’s hope he is not drawn back into Hollywood’s soundtrack scoring, for he certainly has much more to offer in the rock domain. 

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 10
  • Originality 9
  • Production 10
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