(Rhino / Warners)
Now we’re talking!! Studio alumnus producer and musician Steve Wilson has remixed the second Chicago album and we can hear it in clearer, punchier form. The material is strong throughout, though I have always had my favourites. It could never match the explosive debut set by this outfit, namely ‘Chicago Transit Authority’ which is still The Bible for Jazz-Rock-Blues and has guitar monster Terry Kath – one of Jimi’s favourite players ever – in incendiary form throughout. He has his moments here though and more of that later.
Originally released in 1970, the confidence and pure musicality of this crew put others to shame and at this point Chicago was not the MOR act they later drifted towards being. From 16-track multi’s Wilson tears into the project like a beggar at The Ritz, the drumming especially being carefully presented in all its power and invention. This remains an ambitious work and its potency is enhanced and preserved in this edition.
Movin’ In is a horn-laden James Pankow introduction with a relaxed vocal and soft Hendrixy guitar flicks. The Road has a tricky time signature, verging on baroque and slightly Tullish, lovely arrangement. Poem For The People is a Robert Lamm reflective piece evoking Satie and the horns playing as if on a park bandstand, initially, the drumming emphatic and loose-limbed.
In The Country by Terry Kath has a bluesy roll and spitting lead guitar figures. Wake Up Sunshine is a cheerful pop song in a Lovin’ Spoonful vein, ensemble vocal working well. Make Me Smile through to Now More Than Ever is the Pankow song suite ‘Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon’ and starts briskly with choppy guitar and double-time drumming.
So Much To Say, So Much To Give is more dreamy in ambience until the pattering drums lead it into a proggy rhythm – pre Prog really! – then followed by Anxiety’s Moment which has a Paul Williams tinge over a stealthy tread. West Virginia Fantasies is a brief funk interlude. Colour My World is gentle and rolling and it must be said quite haunting, again Satie is brought to mind and Pachabel, too. A weary vocal seems appropriate and retains the subtlety. To Be Free stutters into life, shot through with horn stabs and flashy drumming over punchy guitar chording.
Now More Than Ever is taken at a gallop, the drums controlling each twist and a catchy refrain threaded through the piece. The staccato trombone leaps out at the listener. Fancy Colours by Lamm eases into earshot like a dream. The solemn horn blasts kept under control; 25 Or 6 To 4 has great cyclic chords – as I know from playing it – and a more ferocious and kinetic song about confusion would be hard to find..maybe The Yardbirds’ psych torpedo Happenings Ten Years Time Ago? It’s an Armageddon of sound and the horns are spacebound over the pounding 5-beat changes.
It really does sound fabulous in this incarnation! The mixed tempo’s etc really work as does the horn layering over Kath’s psycho guitar riffing. I did see CTA on their first tour here at Kingston Odeon and they sounded like this, I can assure you. Prelude belongs in a nature film still ; AM Mourning is a soft string-laden lament. PM Mourning is a touch livelier, with plaintive trombone over flutes and keys.
Memories of Love is a Kath work about a ‘warm Summer night’ and again very cinematic in style and delivery. It Better End Soon (Movements 1 – 4 ) has scratchy guitar riffing and deep bass and remains one of the better cuts on this set, an exemplary build intro with axe hammer-ons and organ trills. Maybe they were going for a Blaxploitation vibe here, it’s great to hear it freshened up, for sure. Wah guitar floats through the middle of the song.
The other movements are dark, then bluesy and eerie then the 4th that stabbing style prevalent on this collection. Closing track Where Do We Go From Here always reminded me of Randy Newman with its bar-room ballad piano. Not all of these compositions work for me, but they have never been better presented than on this release and the best bits are rocket-fueled and uplifting.
(Many thanks to Warners for help with this review)
Chicago ‘Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix) is out now and released by Rhino/Warners.
To purchase the album from Amazon UK visit the website here: http://amzn.to/2jEPMGm