Even though this album wasn’t actually their debut, it was the first exposure to this talented Canadian trio for those of us in western Pennsylvania in the summer of 1979, courtesy of their radio hit “Lay It on the Line.” Featuring guitarist Rik Emmett’s soaring tenor over their tight rhythm and incisive guitar licks, it helped to establish them as a major player in the turn-of-the-decade rock scene. My vinyl copy of the LP lasted from then until just about a year ago.
Even more than their subsequent works, “Just a Game” demonstrated the considerable singing and songwriting abilities of drummer Gil Moore, in addition to making him a charter member of the Carmine Appice school of heavy drumming. “Young Enough to Cry” and “American Girls” amply prove his credentials
Though a bit inconsistent in spots, this release points in the direction their subsequent efforts would take, most notably the evolution of Rik Emmett’s guitar stylings, putting him in a class with such better-known contemporaries as Eddie Van Halen and countrymen Alex Lifeson and Frank Marino. Furthermore, his acoustic work, tantalizing previewed on “Fantasy Serenade” and “Hold On,” would later show influences as diverse as Jimmy Page and Spanish flamenco player Carlos Montoya.
Finally, “Just a Game” was the right album at the right time for Triumph, building a smooth bridge from 70’s progressive rock to the the harder-edged 80’s sound, also showing how the Canadians refined the power trio to an extent beyond that of their neighbors to the south or across the Pond.