Stephanie Carta's Posts (6)

I had a wonderful time last weekend, two shows (Colubmia and Greenville) at lovely theaters in the front row for both. I think it is a very special time for Chicago right now. Jeff Coffey is everything we've heard, bringing fresh spirit to the tenor vocals and bass playing. He makes Robert's songs sound brand new. All the vocals were spot on. Robert was fantastic, of course, and Lou sang his heart out too. Most of you know how much I love the Horns, and it was truly a special experience to see Lee and Jimmy playing with so much energy up close. Lee truly is a better trumpet player than ever. He's worked at it, getting his tone perfect, and he was. Jimmy's solos and Ray's were all impressive. Ray played soprano on Just You 'n' Me, in the spirit of free jazz with some dissonance, like Walt did, but with his own style.

The meet and greets were fun. The first time it was like, deer in the headlights with the lights. The second I was with my mom, and she geeked out and had a great time. Robert was very gracious.  

The setlist and the way the shows flowed were perfect, opening up with Introduction with Robert out front. Then into Jeff singing Questions, the contrast of the two vocals making each even more special, just like the classic era, maybe even better! Wake Up Sunshine was a full band rendition, in a very mid-60s style, reflecting the times in which it was written. Another Rainy Day In New York City during the unplugged set was perfect, and Robert was really into it. 

Before the Greenville show last Sunday, I sat down with Lee for a interview. He was very sincere, and I think you'll all find it informative. He is very inspiring, on a personal and musical level, and has all my respect for all he does to keep Chicago going. I love the quote about hitting the stage and feeling like kids. 

My Interview with Lee Loughnane

All the pictures are from the Columbia show at the Township Auditorium: 

Keith and Jeff - If You Leave Me Now

Unplugged set - Another Rainy Day In New York City

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Robert's most biting, and often humorous, lyrics

Today, while doing some very boring office work, I was thinking that along with all the serious messages there is also a lot of humor in Robert's words. Often, they are the same things, and he'll use juxtaposition as a literary device, cynicism and optimism at the same time. (Yes, I am a teacher, so apologies for getting technical here.) This is something we don't always talk about, so I put a mental list together and wanted to write it down...    

And you're swirling while the lights shine
Laughing
Burning through the light
Bittersweet the drops of life
-Fancy Colours (II)
(The image I get in my head with this song is a girl on a dance floor. There's a lot going on in this song musically with Terry's using his Cry Baby and Walt's flute playing over the whole arrangement, so it is easy to not pay attention to the words, but it's great imagery.)


Natural man took her natural face
Made it a strange and alien place
You can't bear to look 'cus she ain't there
A mother has been raped and left to die in disgrace
She is gone
-Mother (III)
(Great personification and so blunt as compared to the hippy tunes of the day that were about the environment.)


Feels so good to be soaring
'Cause LA was so boring
Goodbye
-Goodbye (V)
(That's just funny, and we hear so much of theme of feeling down in LA.)


Are you a civilized person?
Is your life-form advanced? 
All music is static
Every book is a lie
There was no evolution
Only a flood, there was no time
-Sacrificial Culture (In My Head)
(This song and whole album are under-rated. I love this song because the shallowness of culture, and being bombarded with meaningless images, is all I've ever known. We live in sad times, the idea that we're digressing as a culture.)


These random moments of content

We hunger for, our soul is spent
Born each day, then die with sleep
The memories in the darkness weep
-Will People Ever Change? (In My Head)
(Some of the topics in this song turn up again in Naked In the Garden of Allah. Again, the idea that we are bombarded with so much that means so little.)  


Please add any other lyrics that mean something to you... 

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New Blog Post about Robert's songwriting

The Songs and Lyrics of Chicago's Robert Lamm

This post is more personal than my others ones. I wanted to express what these songs meant to me when I was younger, and they still resonate. The fact that Robert has continued to put really great, outside the formula, songs on Chicago's albums is something that has gone over the heads of some of the professional critics, so I wanted to mention some of them.  

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My Blog: Horn Band Reviews

If you haven't seen it yet, please feel free to check out my blog linked below, mostly on Chicago topics. It's a work in progress, and I'll be adding new essays. I tried to focus on some things that I haven't read anywhere else, such as reviews of quad mixes that I really love and are substantially different from the stereo mixes. I'l probably review II in quad next, but I also thought that Ballet needed its own essay, especially considering the Song Hall nomination!  

I'm no expert but it is an opportunity to listen and think deeply, and be respectful, in a way that I don't always read on the internet.  

Horn Band Reviews Blog

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Nominate Chicago for a Kennedy Center Honor!

If you've ever watched the Kennedy Center Honors, which are televised in America at the end of every year, you know the class of the event and the respect for the music and musicians.  Mavis Staples, James Taylor, and others will be honored this year.  The public can submit artist nominations for 2017, which of course would coincide with Chicago's 50th anniversary.  My submission essay to them is below.  Please submit your own! :) 

Kennedy Center Honors

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Chicago the band should be honored because of their artistic achievement and longevity in the field of popular music, a band who are celebrating their 50th anniversary in the year 2017.
Founded in 1967 as a "psychedelic rock band with horns," Chicago f
eatured seven talented individuals, some with classical and jazz training, while others were intuitive talents, all gifted in many different styles of music including r&b, jazz, rock, pop, and soul. Together they created a unique horn-driven progressive hard rock sound, blazing into the public consciousness in 1969 with their first album, the Chicago Transit Authority.


Their second album, simply called Chicago, featured a seven-movement rock suite written by trombonist James Pankow, Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon. They continued to break new creative ground throughout the 70s as their songs, instrumentals, and suites featured time signature and key changes that are rare in popular music.
As a live band, the fiery guitar and soulful baritone voice of Terry Kath dominated the stage. They filled stadiums and arenas and also made in impact on college campuses, playing to their peers across the USA and world. Robert Lamm's intelligent and socially-conscious lyrics challenged them all to think about that status quo and how to change it. Their fourth album was a four-record set recorded live at Carnegie Hall.


Many of their tunes have become rock anthems. Robert Lamm's Saturday in the Park is loved by many generations to this day. Countless couples were married to Colour My World. Peter Cetera's If You Leave Me Now was their first number one hit song.


At the same time, along with radio hits and ballads, they continued to explore new creative grounds. Chicago VII featured the gentle and expressive flute of woodwind player Walter Parazaider in a more prominent jazz fusion role, and his Coltrane-inspired style on the soprano saxophone was a favorite in their live shows. Danny Seraphine's drums recalled the hard bop styles of Max Roach and Art Blakey. James Pankow took the blueprint of JJ Johnson and applied it to a new context, creating a new role for himself that was without precedent, a rock and roll trombone player.


Trumpet player Lee Loughnane has said that they've been together so long that they've had eras. Yet his trumpet solo on Introduction is just as clear and stylist as it was in 1969, if not more. And they aren't going anywhere. Their latest album, entitled Now, featured a reinvigorated band with new creative energy. The original members, Robert Lamm, James Pankow, Lee Loughnane, and Walt Parazaider, meshed perfectly with the great musicians who join them on the road.


In 2016, Chicago were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a great honor that was too long coming. Yet, for their lyrical deepness, high energy live act, and unique instrumentation, they are a band apart from their peers. Chicago were, and are, a unique band that has thrived in six different decades and touched the lives of multiple generations of fans.

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I won't claim to be a serious music critic or pretend I could set aside my emotional attachment to this album to write a unbiased review.  But I thought my personal reflections on it would benefit newer fans and those who may have overlooked it.  Personally, I've been a fan of all three, in their bands and individually, for most of my life and their shows are among my best memories from childhood and my adult life as well, so that's my bias. 

I'm sure everyone knows at least a little about Robert's collaborators, Carl Wilson and Gerry Beckley.  Carl Wilson was the youngest Wilson brother, and he passed away in 1998. His voice and songwriting graced countless Beach Boys albums over the decades, singing songs that ranged from the most gentle ballads to the most soulful rockers. His stage presence added grace and charm, a gentleman always, and he acted as a band leader for the touring band.  Gerry Beckley has always been known as the balladeer for America, writing a lot of radio-friendly hit songs, great charisma on stage, and possessing a very endearing vocal style.  We see from his work in America and solo that he also capable of writing and singing some very introspective tunes.  A great quote from Gerry, to paraphrase: 'these aren't oldies, they're classic rock.  There's a difference.'  Sure is!       

When Carl passed away in 1998, there was no swan song from the Beach Boys.  They hadn't released an album in a while.  When BLW was released in 2000, I felt like this album took on the role of Carl's swan song.  That it wasn't a Beach Boys album and a collaboration with Robert and Gerry made it all the more special.  I loved hearing familiar voices combined in a fresh way, and that's never worn off after playing it for the past 15 years.  

The songwriting here, by all three and others, is particularly strong and sometime intensely personal.  I would also recommend listening to the album on a nice stereo, or at least with good headphones so you get the full effect of the three voices and how they compliment each other.  It's nicely engineered and mixed as well.  Two songs, Robert's Feel the Spirit and Carl's Like A Brother, will break your heart and heal it at the same time.  I Wish For You shows off Carl's voice with sparse instrumentation and an uplifting message.  Run Don't Walk is more upbeat, a song that wouldn't be out of place on a Beach Boys record such as Keepin' the Summer Alive (a very fine album).  

Watching the Time is something of a coming of age song.  On this album, Gerry takes the first verse, and then Robert takes the lead vocal on the second verse.  Gerry and Carl sound angelic on the bridge. Gerry wrote it, but they could be singing about any of their bands with the line "we would reach for the stars 'cus there was room at the top."  Robert's song Life In Motion also sounds like it could be his coming of age story. 

Sheltering Sky kicks off with some spacey sound effects, but turns out to be one of the album's most beautiful moments, about uncertain love. It was also written by Gerry and a shared lead vocal. Robert's voice is very gentle here as well, almost mirroring Gerry's style but in baritone. Without Her is a cover song, written by Harry Nilsson (find the original on you tube, it's good) and keeps the bossa nova beat, really outside spectrum of what most fans are used to hearing.  

The title track, Like A Brother, is a story any Beach Boys fan knows, but the selflessness of Carl's thoughts on his brother Brian are remarkably sweet.  And to be honest, when I listen to it, my thoughts and memories are of Carl most of all.  

I think the final word here should come from Robert's song for Terry Kath.  I know we all wish he didn't have to write it, but that he did and sang it with such passion gives infinite comfort. 

"Oh my gentle friend, the years passed so fast... now we open up the heart, make it beat again...  Dawn breaks over the water. Can you feel the spirit? New day coming to life." - Feel the Spirit

 

 

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