Posts Tagged ‘Review’










Danny Seraphine, the bandChicago’s co-founder and drummer extraordinaire from 1967 to 1990, has written the first book by any current or former member about the 70s and 80s iconic band.

Seraphine, born in Chicago’s New Little Italy, received the bulk of his education on some of the toughest streets in the city.  As a high school dropout, Seraphine had two choices in life: become a low-level, mafia street thug; or become a professional drummer.

His selection as a replacement drummer with Jimmy Ford and the Executives introduced Seraphine to future long time playing partners, saxophonist Walt Parazaider, and tragic guitar legend, Terry Kath.  When their services in that band fell through, the three joined a local cover band called, the Missing Links.  Eventual dissatisfaction with the type of music they were playing, as well as the shoddy performance venues they were forced to put up with, motivated them to form a new kind of horn band.  This project would feature no “front man,” be 100% about the music, and be comprised of the best players they could find in Chicago.  Membership in this new band of brothers, which was soon to known as the Big Thing, additionally included trumpeter Lee Loughnane, trombonist Jimmy Pankow, and piano/organist Robert Lamm.

After signing a management deal with James William Guercio, and also securing bassist Peter Cetera, the band made it’s way out to California.  Renamed Chicago Transit Authority, then simply Chicago, the band endured many hardships before acquiring fame.

However, it could be strongly argued that Chicago’s toughest hardships occurred after they attained the success they longed for.  As Seraphine describes – sometimes broadly, while at other times in great detail – the mental breakdowns, jealousies, infighting, physical altercations, infidelities, minor scandals, mismanagement, serial writer’s block, financial blunders, one band member’s defection, and the untimely death of their guitar genius all point to one major contributing factor: drugs.

I always wondered why there was never a book written by Chicago about Chicago, and now I have my answer:  Who in the band would WANT their story told truthfully?!  There are many sad and dark tales hidden behind that silk-screened, Coca-Cola lettered logo.  It would be easy to condemn Seraphine (who was fired from the band for reasons that depend upon which side of the issue you ask) for writing this autobiography if it wasn’t for the fact that he seems to assign blame to himself as much as anyone else he writes about, and keeps all the who-had-affairs-with-whom discreetly out of his story, unless he is speaking about himself.

As much as I have admired Chicago, which goes as far back as when “Make Me Smile” and “25 Or 6 To 4” were new songs, my biggest gripe with the band has NEVER been about their inability to replace the irreplaceable Terry Kath.  No, my beef involves how they switched from being the innovators of their craft to being the followers of trends, like the period immediately following Kath’s death (disco, and their fading use of quality horn arrangements).  By the 1980s, Chicago was no longer simply following trends but rather chasing after them (drum programming, rock/power ballads, and little to sometimes no use of the horns)!

Sure, their musical performances from the very beginning of the band’s career have pushed the envelope at times (Walt Parazaider’s unique solo in “Movin’ On” from Chicago II comes to mind), and yes, I wish I had a dime for every time they said the words, “I don’t know,” in their lyrics.  But the instrumentation, band and horn arrangements, vocal leads and harmonies, song and chord structuring, album production, and sheer drive (that they possessed at least once upon a time) made Chicago a fascinating, fantastically exciting band to listen to THAT DOES warrant inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!

Okay, okay – end of sermon.

Seraphine delivers here an intriguing retrospective about his time withChicago.  Well written and possessing a good storytelling sense, this interesting look into the inner workings of a band that was never fully as respected as it should have been, makes Street Player an excellent read.


Venue:               The Ravinia Pavilion – Highland Park, Illinois

Performance:      Thursday, August 25, 2011, 8:00 PM

The Gipsy Kings marked their fifth appearance at Ravinia this evening since first coming to Highland Park, Illinois in 2005.  The band played two sets, 45 minutes and 50 minutes respectively, taking a 25-minute intermission.

The Gipsy Kings are derived from the Reyes (Spanish for “Kings”) and Baliardo families, both hailing from the gypsy camps (formed following the 1930s Spanish Civil War) located in the South of France.  Their music has been called Rumba Flamenco, a mix of indigenous traditional Spanish flamenco, sprinkled with pop hooks, which the Gipsy Kings have brought to worldwide audiences since their formation during the 1970s.

The “Flamenco Beatles” certainly delivered tonight with a rousing assortment of hits, including, “Djobi, Djoba,” “Bem, Bem, Maria,” “A Ti aTi,” “A Tu Vera,” “Un Amor,” and a great deal of others.  Every song, whether a fast salsa or lamenting ballad, contain all the traits that make listening (and watching) the Gipsy Kings so enjoyable:  Passionate lead and harmony vocals; melodically rich themes; full and vigorous guitar playing, usually featuring guitar master Tonino Baliardo; all accentuated by syncopated rhythmic punches.

Being a percussionist/set drummer myself, the unsung heroes of the night – which is the same unit I’ve seen with them twice before – has got to be their touring group rhythm section.  These four devils performed with such authority and tightness, driving out the different beats and tempos to form a flawless foundation of sound for the Gipsy Kings to build upon.  Set 2 allowed these masters, Quentin Boursy (drums), Frederic Breton (keyboards), Bernard Paganotti (bass), and Rodolfo Pacheco (percussion) to shine during their solos, interacting with the audience that enhanced the show wonderfully.

The Gipsy Kings followed this by ending with their hit, “Volare,” coming back for an encore of their mega-hit, “Bamboleo” – performed to the Spanish-styled moves of about 25 to 30 girls climbing onto the stage from the audience.  Not a bad way to end the show…

If you haven’t heard of the Gipsy Kings before, I encourage you to get up, shake off the stupor and RUN to your nearest music store.  Being the world music chart dominators that they are means that even Wal-Mart will carry their greatest hits collections.  Keep an eye on their website for upcoming tours (which they generally hit the United States yearly) and make sure to see them!  You won’t be disappointed!

Dancing Backward in High Heels

The New York Dolls

(429 Records)

Producer: Jason Hill

Back in the 1970s, I watched a report on CBS’s 60 Minutes that scared the hell out of the American Midwest.  It was about punk rock.  Trying to remember, I believe it was in honor of the Sex Pistols’ infamous visit to the US.  The report dealt critically of the sex, the drugs and a little of the rock ‘n roll.  Fury, violence, blood, terror – all coming to a venue near you, America!

Here lies the problem: How can a legendary, hard rock band – who were actually one of the influences of those that report was about – live up to an almost 40-year-old mythic reputation of debauchery and mayhem that resembles something closer in reality to GG Allin?

The solution is simple if you’re the New York Dolls: Don’t care about it, and just make great music.  That’s what they’ve done with Dancing Backward in High Heels, their fifth studio album and third since reforming in 2004.  Completing the album’s line-up which includes original members guitarist Sylvain Sylvain and the still eyebrow pencil thin vocalist David Johansen, we have guitarist Frank Infante (Blondie), bassist/producer Jason Hill and drummer Brian Delaney.

Raw, pure and displaying many years of weatherworn experience, the New York Dolls deliver up more inspiration with each influence of theirs they share.  Johansen’s twenty-five second rant (“Fabulous Rant”) right before “I’m So Fabulous” expresses the attitude of their purpose in no uncertain terms.  I listened to the rant five times in a row before proceeding, thinking, There he is!  That’s why we still need David and the Dolls!

Bright, fresh, sardonic, and not a touch of gray here, Dancing Backward in High Heels by the New York Dolls is wonderful music at its most enduring best!  Youngsters, listen up and pay attention!

Codes and Keys

Death Cab for Cutie


Producer: Chris Walla

Codes and Keys, the seventh album and most recent release by Death Cab for Cutie, is a non-guitar driven experiment, receiving mixed results for its efforts.

“Home Is a Fire” is the un-begun beginning of this album.  Right when you expect that it might take off, it doesn’t.  Worse than that, the music betrays some fairly thoughtful lyrics.  “Codes and Keys” melodically pulls things together with some wonderful balances of music defining moments and thoughts – very nice.  The 12/8 meter of “Some Boys” is a commentary from the boys-now-men of Death Cab for Cutie on those not married and/or in love.  Usually, pertaining to song material, there is nothing worse than a composer/musician who has fallen in love, case in point, 97% of John Lennon’s entire solo career.  However, “Some Boys” retains the interest of the listener by avoiding the pitfalls of “moon-in-June” saccharine lyrics and schmaltzy music.  Also, nice chord twists in the end, guys.  “Doors Unlocked and Open,” with its self-indulgent beginning that goes on and on, really drops the ball.  Half way through, when the song finally tries to arrive, I don’t care anymore – then, it slips back into a straight-sounding Mighty Boosh tune mixed with a Pavement outtake – a could-of-been that wasn’t.  “You Are a Tourist” (do I hear some…guitar…?) is clearly the best song of the album as it exhorts the listener to listen to those little voices within and act.  “Unobstructed Views” is virtually stillborn – a bad, unimportant squint left off a Pink Floyd album, post-Roger Waters.  As I tried to listen, I began to think about everything else I had to do that day…

With the exception of the last tune, “Stay Young, Go Dancing,” which is a very good cut, the rest of the album wanders aimlessly.  It’s like walking through a forest: you can see some nice things, but you have to keep your eyes sharp because there are a hell of a lot of trees, leaves and weeds.

With this new album, Death Cab for Cutie maps a trek purposely away from ground covered in previous journeys, which I can appreciate.  Unfortunately, the problem with Codes and Keys is that they just don’t seem to arrive at any clear destination.

 Showroom of Compassion



Producer: Cake

Showroom of Compassion, the sixth studio album by Cake, acquired two notable distinctions upon its release: it was the band’s first album to debut at the number one spot on the Billboard 200; while being the lowest-selling album to attain that top spot (at 44,000 copies).  Be the latter as it may, Showroom of Compassion contains all the unique style and traits that make the album wholly Cake.  Quirky lyrics, syncopated guitar riffs and busy bass lines laid amongst trumpet pronouncements, Moog slices and strategically placed vibra-slaps make for an all around worthwhile listen.

“Federal Funding” sounds as if it could belong on the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, while “Long Time” makes use of every Cake cliché in their book (and heartily welcomed).  “Got to Move,” which sounds like a wry mix of “Groovy Kind of Love” and 60s sadness, does grind on a bit.  And, of course, what would a Cake album be without them doing a…Frank Sinatra cover (“What’s Now Is Now” – kicked in the pants a bit).  “Mustache Man (Wasted),” my favorite song here, grooves out a nice little funky verse that melts into one sweet chorus.  If you take the score to Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, chop it up and tape it back together…slightly out of sequence…you’ll have the heavy lumbering instrumental, “Teenage Pregnancy.”  “Sick of You,” one of the album’s singles, takes off like a Grand Funk Railroad chart topper.  After “Easy to
Crash,” which is not the best tune on album, we hear the vocalizing John McCrea performing an ode to Woody Guthrie with the country waltz, “Bound Away.”  The sweet sadness of “The Winter” leaves the listener with one last heartfelt swoon, and the stringed staccato of “Italian Guy” finishes off the album face down.

All in all, Showroom of Compassion is a very good effort (Cake, don’t take so long between albums!).  For those that tire of a diet existing of pretentious opuses from super-serious bands, I say let them eat Cake.

“If She Cries” b/w “Love Of The Loved”

The Poppees

(Bomp! Records)

Producers: Greg Shaw; Craig Leon

Blink, and you would have missed them.

Formed in 1973, The Poppees never received national attention, never received proper compositional recognition, and never received a contract with a major record label.  They did, however, produce two singles for Bomp! Records that makes one wonder ‘what might have been’ had things been a little different.

As New York City contemporaries of the Ramones, Blondie, The Heartbreakers, and Television, The Poppees wore Beatle influences very much on their sleeves as they became the pioneers of power pop during the tumultuous emergence of punk.  However, there is a resistance to slag off The Poppees as merely another 1970s “Beatles wannabe” group if you take into account that rhythm guitarist Bob Waxman and bassist Paddy Lorenzo wrote some damn nice songs – one of which being worthy enough to be included on the Ramones’ album, Subterranean Jungle.

“If She Cries” begins with a gentle, E minor chord, betraying the pop fury to come a second later.  Filled with 1960s harmonies, the song bounces back and forth with chord progressions fast enough to rival the Easybeats’ “Friday On My Mind.”  Executed flawlessly (with the noticeable exception of the instruments playing a B major chord at the same time the vocal harmonies sing a B minor), this tune, recorded in the mid-70s, sounds as if it could’ve been recorded ten years earlier or forty years later.  It’s a timeless little tune that neither preaches nor apologizes.

On the flipside, we hear a cover of a Lennon and McCartney composition (originally given to Cilla Black) called, “Love Of The Loved.”  Acoustically driven and just as buoyant as “If She Cries,” “Love Of The Loved” innocently rejoices in just how romantic love can, or at least, should be.

One follow-up single later, and it was all over by the fall of 1976 with the band members forming or joining such bands as The Boyfriends, Sorrows, and Wayne (Jane) County’s band.

These long sought after 45s are now available on CD with the release of Pop Goes The Poppees, released by Bomp! in 2010.  I suggest you snatch up this compilation as quickly as you can, for like The Poppees themselves, the songs might be here today and gone tomorrow.

Move Like This

The Cars

(Hear Music)

Producers: Jacknife Lee; The Cars

Whenever you hear a musical legend say his equally legendary band will never, ever, get back together again, it’s about a 50-50 chance that they someday will.  Thankfully, the Cars are in line with those that have, releasing their seventh studio album, Move Like This, their first since 1987.  Equally wonderful is that all the surviving Cars, including Ric Ocasek (sadly, minus bassist/vocalist Benjamin Orr, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2000), are back in the driver’s seat, delivering a new round of hits.  Move Like This is a 10 song, 3 bonus track collection of some pretty solid music.

You could hear the Cars being the Cars within the first fourteen seconds of the album’s opener, “Blue Tip,” lyrically a social commentary concerning the Third Wave generation.  The cautionary “Too Late” warns of the impending heavy buzz-saw guitar danger of “Keep On Knocking,” a robust little party rocker.  “Soon” is about as gorgeous as ballad as it is earnest and honest.  Simply sung, it ranks as the album’s most tender moment.  “Sad Song,” (which jumps to the forefront like their classic, “Let’s Go,”) moves along musically as anything BUT sad – definitely the album’s hit single.  After the equally upbeat “Free,” the brakes are hit driving into “Drag On Forever,” which thankfully, doesn’t drag on forever, not being the best tune on the album.  If movie director John Hughes was still alive and decided to make a retro-1980s, Brat Pack styled film, the soundtrack would definitely include the introspective, heart beating, “Take Another Look.”  The pensive “It’s Only” set’s up the album’s closer, “Hits Me,” which in the end, finds our long, lanky Goth-before-Goth hero trying to make it out of exile (1987?) and into  present times (which, of course, he finds shallow and inconsequential).

Unfailingly melodic and ready to rock, the Cars’ Move Like This is a concrete, entertaining addition to their catalog of hits.  Hearing again that classic Cars’ sound is like running into an old friend from college that you haven’t see in years, and are genuinely happy to see.  It’s great to hear the Cars performing new music classically.

Nick Mason of Pink Floyd once remarked that you don’t want a world full of dinosaurs lumbering about, but it is nice to have a few of them still around.  Add the Cars to that list.