Almost three years ago, I looked at my rack of CDs and thought it would be a fun waste of time to listen to all of them from start to finish. I started this blog simply as a way for me to keep track of what I had listened to and jot down a few music-related memories. I thought maybe a few of my friends might glance at it occasionally, but I never had plans of amassing an online following or making any money with it. I don't think of myself as a music critic and I don't think of these posts as reviews, just notes to myself. So I was shocked last month when I got an email from ex-Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine's public relations firm offering to send me this CD as well as a copy of Seraphine's 2011 autobiography, Street Player: My Chicago Story. There's a first time for everything and I accepted the offer, mainly because the PR hype stated that "Like Chicago, CTA’s music is built on blazing brass, taut funk and searing guitars." How could I pass up a chance at that?
Book reviews are completely outside of this blog's scope, but I'll go off topic this once and write a few words about the autobiography. For the most part, it's typical rock star biography stuff: band forms, works hard, pays its dues, eventually makes it big, sex-drugs-rock-and-roll touring, infighting, band splits, lawsuits. What sets this book apart are the stories of growing up as a member of a Chicago street gang and how those influences affected Seraphine and his business practices throughout his life. After Seraphine was fired by the other members of Chicago, he lived as a hermit for a few years in the Colorado wilderness. The story of that fascinating part of his life merits only a few pages in this book, but I think those years are worthy of a interesting book all their own. In any case, Seraphine came out of that experience all the better for it, which led him back to drumming and the formation of California Transit Authority with guitarist Marc Bonilla.
Now (finally) to the CD. Definitely not a tribute or cover band, Seraphine stays true to his Chicago roots without being too derivative. Chicago was always a collaborative effort and that remains true here with contributions from a number of talented songwriters and performers including Peter Fish and Larry Braggs. Bonilla plays hella guitar and works well playing and writing with Seraphine. The horn arrangements sound more like Tower Of Power than old Chicago, but that's a minor quibble. My biggest beef with the recording is the mix: there's some clipping and no subtlety in the balance so all parts are pretty much in your face all the time. But if you're like me and gave up on Chicago in 1986 after the lackluster Chicago 18 album, you would find this CTA album to be a welcome return to 1970's form - there's even some interesting throwback instrumental pieces on the album; all that's missing is a Hohner Clavinet. There's some great vocalists here, but would it be too much to ask for a Peter Cetera guest vocal somewhere on the follow-up?
On a side note, it's a shame there really isn't much of a market for good music like this, thanks mainly to the nearsightedness of the music industry. Singer-songwriter Mike Doughty of the band Soul Coughing wrote a nice piece about those frustrations (and some possible solutions) here.
Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart
Tracks: Check out tracks at the band's MySpace page or the Spotify link below. Three tracks in, we're treated to a smokin' cover of Al Kooper's soul waltz, I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know, where the band really cooks. But this is one of those rare CDs that actually gets better as it goes on. As a result, most of my favorite songs are in the second half, including the half-time shuffle Strike, Full Circle (with vocals from Bill Champlin, another Chicago veteran), Staring At The Sun, and a high energy cover of Take Me Back To Chicago which is now a more interesting piece to me after reading about the song's origins in the Street Player autobiography. The weaker cuts are The Real World, Out Of Reason, and Daydream Lover.
Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None, although I'm going to assume that I saw Danny Seraphine perform with Chicago when I saw the band in Ft. Worth back in 1985. Seraphine autographed and personally inscribed both the CD and book to me. Classy move, Danny. Simple efforts like that go a long way with people like me.