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Chicago “Now”—The Same Groove Revolves

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Sometimes it pays to stand still while everyone races off somewhere else, especially if you are in a good place to begin with.  Chicago, the band, has hardly changed since the height of its fame back in the early 70s. Chicago’s 70s Big-Band sound was not a widely spread phenomena back then, never mind in 2014.  Lighthouse, Tower of Power, and Earth, Wind, and Fire all used horns to good purpose—straddling the rock-jazz line without missing out on AM success. Chicago may have been the best of that genre, may still be.

Chicago XXXVI: Now

I disappeared from them—they certainly did not stop putting out their music.  They have been keeping the sound going for about forty-six years, officially—though they were on the go before 1968.  What’s more amazing is that their arrangements are still complex, still a mixture of textures with full horns out front with the guitar.  Not a common sound. They were bolder, less smooth back in 1973, but we all change. The Now-Chicago is pretty much smooth jazz in 2014.

They still feature the horns, unlike any other rock band has (I would argue), and they still have great musicians and singers.  Hendrix once commented about Chicago’s horns and stated that their guitarist was better than him. It’s unlikely any of us would agree with Hendrix’s kindness, but the current version of Chicago could have their hits too. And they are not all smooth and sweet either; some of their songs are downright controversial.  In fact, the best are.

It’s a confusing record that way. Songs like “Now” and “Crazy Happy” are clearly mellow FM hits in waiting. “Naked in the Garden of Allah” and “Free at Last,” however, are somewhat more controversial.  It’s a good sign. Listeners have to think it through.

The Volume Test= 65%

One of the things I’ve noticed about listening to well established bands, those that got their start in the 60s or before, is that those of us who once revelled in music of that era now tend to keep the volume down—all the while knowing that we have harmed our hearing at concerts of our heroes years ago and from stereos in between (and through the use of power tools).  So I test them, literally, by blaring them over the surprisingly brilliant sound system of my family’s minivan. It’s probably a better system than my strobe-tuned turntable and Yamaha speakers—a proud 50 watts per channel, amp flashing away.

So, Chicago blaring on a minivan’s sound system in 2014? Great production, some great tunes, what musicians! My choice is, though, to pick up my iPod and switch to Chicago VI—even though it doesn’t contain “Saturday In The Park.”