First an admission. Even though I am the New Music Editor for Popdose, I can be pretty old school. If you’ve been reading along, you already know that. There’s some really good new music coming out, but I have a soft spot in my heart not only for the older artists, but for the old way of doing things. I like real guitars, drums, and pianos. They’re doing amazing things with technology these days, but there’s no doubt that some of music’s soul has been lost in the process. Another issue I have is that so much new music is presented in hushed tones, per the “quiet is the new loud” movement. There’s a place for that, but I need an injection of good, upbeat rock and roll now and then as well.
I was happy when the new album by Bill Champlin came over my transom. Although Bill has been a member of Chicago since 1981, and has contributed songwriting, keyboard playing, and vocals to many of the band’s hits, I haven’t really been following Chicago, so I’ve pretty much missed that. My admiration for Bill goes back to the late ’60s when he fronted a San Francisco Bay-area jazz/funk band with horns called the Sons of Champlin. The band made several albums, but the one that sticks out for me was their wonderful debut album Loosen Up Naturally, which was released in 1969. It is pretty much solely on that album that Bill Champlin’s reputation rests with me.
Bill Champlin has returned with his sixth solo studio album, and first in more than ten years, No Place Left to Fall (DreamMakers Music), and he has delivered on the 40 year-old promise that he made with that first Sons of Champlin album. Given his affiliation with horns over the course of his career, it’s a bit odd that there are so few on this album, but that matters not a bit. This is a defiantly old school album, full of great songs, and great playing by the assembled cast, which includes Bill’s wife Tamara and his son Will. The fact that the Nashville-based Champlin chose a studio in rural New Jersey to record his album does not hurt one bit in this Jersey boy’s heart.
No Place Left To Fall is rock solid even as the songs shift from soul to jazz to pop and back again. “Lookin’ For You” features fierce playing by the core band, which in addition the Champlin on keyboards, includes Billy Ward (B.B. King) on drums, George Hawkins, Jr. (John Fogerty) on bass, and Bruce Gaitsch (Madonna) on guitar.
“Never Been Afraid” features instantly identifiable background vocals by former Chicago vocalist Peter Cetera, and some great guitar work by well-known session player and former Toto member Steve Lukather. Also worth mentioning is a completely stripped down version of the Diane Warren-penned, number one Chicago hit, “Look Away.”
Call him old school if you want. I’m sure that Bill Champlin would happily plead guilty. There’s nothing innovative here, just well written songs, performed with passion and soul. That’s enough for me any day. (Don’t miss the Popdose Interview with Bill Champlin!)