Kevin Basil (signature)

A Little Self-Promotion

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Written by Basil on 11/12/2003 11:11 AM. Filed under:

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Gimme, gimme, gimme! I want, I want, I want! *whine*

Hallowe’en exits, and in retail outlets all over the country, trees, garlands, lights and music come out of the closet. On November 15, Orthodox Christians begin fasting in preparation for the Nativity of Our Lord. Since the season of shopping for Christmas is upon us, I thought I would take the oppurtunity to point my faithful readers to my Wish List. Not because I’m a greedy, self-centered bastard, but because you are so kind and gracious.

Recently, Chicago signed with Rhino Records and began releasing reissues of their catalog with additional tracks. Continuing this process, they now reissue their 1998 Christmas album — Chicago 25 — with new tracks produced by Phil Ramone (Billy Joel, James Taylor, Paul Simon) who also produced their album Hot Streets 25 years ago. Already a hot, groovin’ project, these new songs add a funky sophistication to the tracks produced by the E Street Band’s Roy Bittan. The reissue is retitled Christmas: What’s It Gonna Be, Santa?

The CD opens with a new arrangement of “Winter Wonderland.” Robert Lamm sings the lead, and his smooth baritone is backed up by Bill Champlin and Jason Scheff. Harmonically and rhythmically, this arrangement defies expectations.

I still believe “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is perhaps the best version of this piece that I’ve heard. I’m always fond of Bill Champlin’s blue-eyed soul vocal stylings, and they really shine on this track. His bluesy voice also makes “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” enjoyable listens. He arranges “What Child is This” and the tune written with his wife Tamara, “Bethlehem,” with a bluesy traditional Christmas carol feel — quite an interesting combo.

Lee Loughnane’s arrangement of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” brings a straight-forward rock feel to the minor melody, and Jason Scheff’s tenor polishes it off with his usual vocal clarity. Loughnane also arranges “Let It Snow.” In a rather unusual move, Loughnane sings lead on this and a few other tracks on the CD, as does guitarist Keith Howland. One of the things that has always impressed me about Chicago is their vocal diversity and their ability — since all of the vocalists are also instrumentalists — to let anyone sing if they want.

It’s good to see these guys still having fun making music. Hopefully, a new CD — their 27th — will be released sometime in the next year. I have both this album and their box set retrospective on my Wish List.

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