Over the years, I've reviewed a number of Chicago-related recordings - new Chicago, late-released Chicago, old Chicago re-recorded by the latest band, solo recordings by members of Chicago, a Toto recording with a Pankow horn arrangement, etc.
This one is something slightly different, although it could go under a solo album by a former band member. This one has a twist in that it's the second album by Danny Seraphine, the original Chicago drummer who left the band (was kicked out?) after Chicago 18. He's definitely trying to sound like Chicago, or as someone else has mentioned, like Chicago should have sounded had the David Foster era never happened.
Well, if the name of the band is an indicator, it may be more of a Chicago tribute band with not one, but two Chicago members involved. Bill Champlin also appears, and Jason Scheff has also appeared with them live in concert. Their first album was almost entirely Chicago covers, which is why I never bought it. This one is different. There is one Chicago cover and one BS&T cover (which Chicago often covered in concerts back in the day).
The Real World
I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know
Out of Reason
Conviction (Song for Ronnie)
Staring at the Sun
In the Kitchen
Take Me Back to Chicago
Before I rip it to shreds, let me first say that I like this album.
Package: Danny must have been the advocate of the nameless, faceless brand, because this is more nameless and faceless than Chicago. No liner notes, no listing of band members, not even writing credits.
Production: Pretty good, although sometimes the textures are a little dense, with less variety than a typical Chicago album. I don't really like the track order, and if Danny wants to sound more like old Chicago, he needs to have a better album concept. For example, Chorale was slipped into the middle of the album with no relation to what happens before and after. For the same reason, he needs to rethink who is sing which tracks. There were a few that would have sounded more like Chicago if Bill would have sung them, especially The Real World.
Horn arrangements: Many of these do sound like Pankow's distinctive horn writing - too much at times. Certain recognizable tropes sound like they were lifted straight from various Chicago albums, and others just sound bland (Strike).
Solos: Where are they? You don't get a horn solo until the 12th track (Take Me Back to Chicago). There are lots of guitar solos, and more keyboard solos than typical for Chicago. (Robert Lamm was never a great improviser.) For that matter, James Pankow recorded many embarrassing trombone solos as well as some awesome ones, and Walt was an advocate of wrong note solos, to the extend that very few were "right" note solos. Lee's recorded solos were generally quite good. To be honest, none of them are really masters of their instruments, but they did what they did really well, and were terrific as a unit. Chicago super-subs Lee Thornburg, Nick Lane, and Ray Hermann are probably all better players than the founding members.
As far as the concept goes, they (at times) sound more like Tower of Power or Blood, Sweat, & Tears than Chicago. Why? It possible is accounted for by more soulful vocals, especially from the unnamed tenor lead, and possibly thicker brass over-dubs. ILYMTYEK is a BS&T cover, but it sounds like it was covered by ToP. My real question is why they NEED to sound like Chicago. Yes, I love Chicago, but I think they should take it to the next step, become a band with named members, unique writing styles, and stable personnel. I would like to hear the individuals express themselves more, not just try to sound like Chicago.
This is getting long, and I haven't even discussed the individual tracks. Here is a brief rundown:
My favorite track is the instrumental, In the Kitchen. Here there is no attempt to sound like Chicago. In fact, I probably would have started the album with Chorale, In the Kitchen, then either The Real World, or Staring at the Sun. That would have been a typical Chicago progression, then something low-key like Go On. I would probably end the album with Out of Reason and Daydream Lover. The piano solo, Conviction, should have been paired with some more appropriate than Strike. Full Circle is the obvious candidate.
Staring at the Sun is a rocker, and at times sounds like (the brief) DeWayne Bailey-era late Chicago. The tenor vocalist and guitarist both sound like him and the lower voice sounds a little like Robert. One of the singers in Go On sounds like Keith Howland. The title track is good, but I wouldn't have started the album with it. It almost sounds like Foster-era Chicago, but with more brass and fewer synths. It does have the wall-of-voices like late Chicago. The Real World reminds me of James Pankow's Toto collaboration (Dying on My Feet - which I liked a lot) although it doesn't really sound the same. Primetime is another instrumental, which I think works well. Strike sounds like something off Hilary McRae's only album. I liked her album, but I don't really care for this. It also reminds me of Love Me, Do from XXX, which I didn't like at all.
My overall verdict is tough. It's not an album that I can't put down, yet I like it. If I could forget that this isn't really a Chicago cover band, I would probably give it 4 stars out of 5, but considering all my above criticism, let's say 3.5 stars. I might like it a little more than Robert Lamm's Subtlety and Passion, which I can't remember what I rated it, but I confess I haven't listened to it in a long time.
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