Tuesday, October 29, 2013

VINTAGE VINYL (Pt. 2) - REO Speedwagon "REO"

REO Speedwagon 

Welcome to the second of my
five-part series in which I'm
revisiting a few long-lost LPs
that I uncovered recently while
rummaging through my garage.
REO Speedwagon is one of my
all-time favorite bands. And the
REO record remains one of the
shiniest jewels in the band's
impressive musical treasure
chest — especially on vinyl.

Despite an impressive five-album catalogue and nearly six years of relentless touring, the best hand that REO Speedwagon could muster by 1976 was a pair of twos, a five, a six and a Jack. However, the Illinois-based combo was building momentum and revving up for a massive breakthrough.

Produced by John Stronach (Joe Walsh / Dan Fogelberg), REO was the Speedwagon's sixth record and it marked the return of estranged vocalist, Kevin Cronin, who had fronted the band on its second record, R.E.O./T.W.O., but bailed during the production of album three, Ridin' the Storm Out.

Described best (by me) stylistically at the time as the Eagles' scrappy little stepbrother, REO Speedwagon finally had harnessed the creative "fire and ice" dynamic between Gary Richrath's  guitar-driven edge and Cronin's acoustic-based, pop sensibility — resulting in the most cohesive and raucous effort of the band's pre-Journey-O-Styx-Wagon area.

Although REO was one of the band's all-time poorest-selling records, several of its eight tracks helped to ultimately ignite their 1977 breakout live album, You Get What You Play For. And despite failing to chart as a single, the kickoff track, Cronin's "Keep Pushin'," remains a much-loved concert favorite and a Classic Rock radio staple.

I revisited my slightly scratchy LP version of the record recently via a kickass set of headphones. Holy cow, it still stands up — 37 years later. Anything but dated, the songs felt as fresh as ever. In fact, the emotions conveyed through the lyrics of Cronin's "(I Believe) Our Time is Gonna Come" are so timeless, not to mention, honest and vulnerable, they could have been written this morning by any of today's latest and greatest songsmiths.

The production was, and is, superb. Each layer upon beautiful layer of Les Pauls, Telecasters and acoustic guitars still sounded delightfully crisp and delicious — as if I was hearing the record for the very first time.

Gary Richrath personally signed the LP cover of my REO record in 1990.
(You may notice that he struggled a bit with my cheap ball point pen.)
The band's oft unsung MVP, founder Neal Doughty's keyboard work still zings — particularly his biting piano track on the Richrath / Cronin rocker, "Breakaway." The powerhouse bass lines from Gregg Philbin are even more thunderous than I remembered. And as an aspiring young player who grew up idolizing drummer Alan Gratzer, it was a treat rediscovering his masterful tracks. Grazter's signature, "less is more," "keep-it-in-the-pocket" style truly shines on Richrath's "(Only A) Summer Love."

REO Speedwagon would eventually strike gold, then platinum as purveyors of pop provolone throughout the '80s. However, the REO record serves a strong showcase for a still-emerging, hard rockin', song-based band when it had street cred to spare. And it's also a mighty precursor to 1978's equally epic You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can't Tuna Fish and '79's sleeker and sexier Nine Lives.

Yes, the vinyl music format experience remains organic and personal to us old school aficionados. And I'm looking forward to sharing the other three LPs that rediscovered recently, in subsequent posts over the next few days. Stay tuned! 

-Christopher Long
(October 2013)

Check out my entire
"Vintage Vinyl" series:



C'MON! -

Saturday, October 26, 2013

VINTAGE VINYL (Pt. 1) - Chicago "X"


I recently uncovered a real find.
There it was, buried beneath a
pile of crap in the back of my
garage — a stack of forgotten
LPs. Caked with mildew, most
had rightfully been forgotten.
However, five were true gems.
And I thought that I'd launch
my all-new series by revisiting
this classic, first.
Arguably the biggest rock act on the planet at the time, Chicago was flying high — having racked up an impressive string of five consecutive #1 albums and a slew of chart-busting singles when X arrived in stores on June 14, 1976. I was just 13 when my 16-year-old sister first brought the record home that summer. The music sounded fresh to me — funkier and grittier than the band's previous efforts, with a subtle pop bouquet. And I loved it! Chicago X was so hot, in fact, that 37 years after its release, the record still feels physically warm to the touch. And it's filled with superb songs, amazing performances and highlights galore.

Recorded at producer James William Guercio's Colorado Caribou Ranch studio, Chicago X was a full-fledged group effort — one in which all of their creative dots connected.

Side One kicks off with guitarist Terry Kath's down and dirty "Once or Twice." The semi-dysfunctional love / lust song oozes undeniable stankiness. Kath's "look Mom, no hands" lead vocal is a perfect fit and the mighty Chicago horn section simply burns — particularly Walt Parazaider's  sax work.

Composer / trombonist James Pankow makes his vocal debut on "You Are on My Mind" — a smooth groovin', jazzy track that remains one of my all-time Chicago favorites. Another Pankow-penned gem, "Skin Tight," features a compelling lead vocal from bassist Peter Cetera. The R&B-flavored, libido-drenched romp makes for one of the record's funkiest. "Fits me like a glove," indeed!

The stylistic "oddball" of the eleven-song batch, Peter Cetera's "If You Leave Me Now" was the band's first-ever #1 single. The engaging acoustic guitar work of James William Guercio pinned against Cetera's lead vocal is pure magic, and Jimmie Haskell's lush string and French horn orchestration helps make this one a truly timeless and tasty staple.

Trumpteter Lee Loughnane's "Together Again" also serves as a tremendous highlight. Loughnane's lead vocal has an honest and pure quality similar to Kath's. In fact, in later years, Loughnane would recreate Kath's "Colour My World" lead vocals in concert. This one is a straight-up rocker that flows seamlessly into the mellow sections and is enhanced further by Parazaider's blistering flute contribution.

The first of the album's two Top 40 hits, keyboardist Robert Lamm's "Another Rainy Day in New York City" also features Cetera on lead vocals. Othello Molineaux and Leroy Williams' steel drum contribution adds much to the song's happy-sounding "world" vibe. Well, it's at least as happy as a song can sound that's about a rainy day in a place where the guy doesn't even want to be.

Lamm's "Scrapbook" and "You Get it Up" are so dang fun and funky, they could have appeared on an Ohio Players record. Rollacoasta, baby!

Closing out the record is Kath's "Hope for Love." Kath's vocals are warm and bluesy, and the lyrics are unique and personal. A simple acoustic song about the pursuit and reality of love, it shines brightest when merged with the riveting orchestration. In my view, it's one of Kath's all-time best pieces of work.

Additional props are owed to the dynamic duo of drummer Danny Seraphine and percussionist Laudir de Oliveira. Their brilliant contributions throughout Chicago X make these songs sizzle and sing.

From the feel of connecting with a much-loved band to the look of the cover art and liner notes to the rich and beautiful crackle-pop of the needle gliding across the groove, the vinyl record format  represented an organic and personal experience. But fortunately, even in today's sterile, disposable, iUniverse, it's still wonderful to step out in the garage every once in a while and revisit our (nearly) forgotten friends. This is the first installment of a five-part series and I'll be psyched to revisit the other four recently rediscovered vinyl gems in posts over the next few days. Stay tuned!

-Christopher Long
(October 2013)

Check out my entire 
"Vintage Vinyl" series:



C'MON! -

Monday, October 21, 2013

CONCERT REVIEW: Chicago (Melbourne, FL - 10.18.13)

The King Center / Melbourne, FL 

From the young to the young at
heart, the crowd of 2,200 fans
roared with tremendous fervor
as Chicago hit the stage at 8pm. 

In short order, the band began carving out a cavalcade of classics from its early catalog, including "Dialogue," "Questions 67 and 68" and "Alive Again." Yet despite the non-stop "Hit Parade" factor, co-founder, singer / songwriter and keyboardist Robert Lamm took a moment early on to tease the faithful flock with the promise of an upcoming Chicago record featuring all-new material that currently is in the works.

I've often likened Chicago to the rock and roll version of P.F. Chang's — as fans have come to expect an impeccable level of quality when purchasing the band's records and / or concert tickets. And for 46 years, Chicago has delivered consistently — tonight's show was no exception. The audio mix was absolutely perfect. In fact, I've never heard the band sound so good, and the set list was stellar. Visually, the show was simply spectacular-looking and truly offered fans plenty-o-bang for their hard-earned buck.

Robert Lamm
Aside from their near endless slew of chart-busting hits, I'm always impressed by Chicago's consistent commitment to their country and community. In recent years the band has partnered with the American Cancer Society to help raise awareness and funds. Fans can bid online for an opportunity to "Sing with Chicago" live on stage. The top bidders win the once-in-a-lifetime experience of performing the 1976 classic, "If You Leave Me Now," with the band in selected cities during their concert tours. The winner for the Melbourne op was an adorable little gal named Gracie. While chatting briefly with Gracie backstage before the show, I mentioned that I'd seen several previous winners sing with Chicago and that I expected her to be the best. Prim, proper and full of confidence, the innocent-looking eight-year-old replied, "Yeah, that's what everyone's saying." Out of the mouths of babes!

Following Gracie's cameo, the crème de la crème classics continued, including "(I've Been) Searching So Long" and "Call on Me." Bassist Jason Scheff's solo / keyboard rendition of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" prompted the ever-humble Lamm to comment, "I bring reinforcements because I need them," as he then manned the keyboard, accompanied by percussionist Walfredo Reyes and guitarist Keith Howland on "Wake up Sunshine." The stripped-down triple-shot wrapped up with smooth groovin' keyboardist Lou Pardini on "Look Away." The first set concluded with "Make Me Smile" and "Colour My World," featuring co-founder / trumpeter Lee Loughnane  beautifully recreating the late Terry Kath's lead vocal.

Keith Howland
Following intermission, the band revved up for a raucous second set, kicking off with the 1975 smash "Old Days." In short order  they unleashed a slew of early staples and '80s faves, including "Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?," "Beginnings," "Hard Habit to Break" and "You're the Inspiration."

Chicago is a fine-tuned, well-oiled machine that never fails to deliver a top notch, family-friendly show. Yet, the band does still manage to offer surprises and ample wow factor — even for us "frequent flyers." One second-half highlight was "Street Player." Although the disco-flavored track barely charted when first released in 1979, it has gone on to gain new life in recent years as a remix and sample source for such current hits as "I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)" by hip hop / dance artist, Pitbull.

Lou Pardini
Another highlight was the intense and often animated duel between Reyes and longtime drummer Tris Imboden during "I'm a Man." These two guys are such musical monsters and play off each other so well that their in-concert exchange inspired me actually to go home and — toss my drums in the trash!

In a rather personal moment, Lamm confessed to the crowd that, "this is my favorite Chicago song of all-time," as he led his crew into "Just You 'n' Me." Amen — c'mon and preach it brother!

But I was extremely disappointed by tonight's absence of co-founder / trombonist James Pankow. Chicago without Jimmy is like the Cowboys without Emmitt — oh sure, you know that they're gonna win, but something is seriously missing. However, Nick Lane (Maynard FergusonRod StewartTom PettyThe Who) served as a fabulous fill-in.

Lee Loughnane
Ending on an über high note, the show ramped down with the triple-threat combo of "Saturday in the Park," "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" and "Feelin' Stronger Every Day." But wait, there's more!

The band returned to the stage for a double-dose encore. Co-founder / saxophonist / flautist and all-'round sharp dresser (snazzy red socks and all), Walt Parazaider was burnin' all night. However, he nearly set the drapes on fire during "I Just Wanna be Free."

Despite some of their more well-known saccharine-sweet singles, Chicago is actually a pretty darn heavy band. The late Terry Kath's guitar work on "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" remains downright stanky, while the main riff on "Old Days" is straight-up metal, dude! And in that regard, Lamm came down, up front with keytar in-hard to join in on their heaviest tune of all, the mighty show-ending, "25 or 6 to 4." And the crowd goes wild! 

Although the show was a bona fide start-to-finish thriller, THE highlight of the night for me was the personal pre-show meet-and-greet experience. There I was, sitting backstage like a dope in a huge, dimly lit, black velvet curtain-lined room with a dozen or so other diehards. Suddenly, all nine of "them" came walking through the doorway — cool as could be. Then I noticed that I'd peed in my pants!

-Christopher Long
(October 2013)



C'MON! -

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

BOOK REVIEW "Messiah: Origin"

Mark Arey, Matt Dorff
 Kai Carpenter

From an array of iGadgets
to a host of various print
format translations, we
have greater access to a
wider selection of Bible
options today than ever
before. To me, the Word
of God is exciting stuff and
I'm always psyched to
make a new discovery
especially when it's a
particularly cool version.

The graphic novel genre has been around since the early 1960s. The Word of God has been around  a few years longer. MESSIAH: Origin is the riveting result of the two colliding. And the opening line of the Preface (almost) says it all — MESSIAH is unlike any Bible you have ever read. True dat.

As a kid, Bible stories came to life in the pages of the picture books that I combed through frequently while waiting at the doctor's office. Hey Mom, can we stop for ice cream on the way home? In my teens, I was drawn to the amazing artwork of Marvel Comics. Hmm, where'd I put  that new Nugent  8-Track? As an old man, I'm now completely consumed by the Word of God. I've fallen and I can't get up! And MESSIAH combines all of my past and present passions into one glorious, full-color, 175-page package!

(And it's pretty darn cool!)

MESSIAH is the culmination of an incredible team effort. Mark Arey does a fantastic job of translating from ancient Greek, while Matt Dorff adapts the text for the graphic novel format beautifully. And Kai Carpenter's artwork is simply superb. Together, their work presents a visual and flowing narrative harmony. It's the story of the early life of Jesus Christ as taken from the different perspectives of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and told in a single, continuous account.

In sum, MESSIAH: Origin will provide believers in all walks of their spiritual lives with a fun, fresh perspective on the Word of God and it's a powerful and effective faith tool for the young and the young at heart.

-Christopher Long
(October 2013)

The latest from author Christopher Long
is available NOW on Amazon.

Also from Christopher Long...
Get it on Amazon. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "Another 60 Minutes of Wisdom" by Derek Grier

Another 60 Minutes 
of Wisdom 
- Derek Grier -

With all of life's urgencies — mastering 
the latest "kill 'em all" video game, 
Tweeting, texting, Snapchatting and 
viewing the endless crop of YouTube 
clips depicting cats playing piano, who 
has time for details anymore? Hence, 
if you've got something to say, you
better say it in 60 seconds or less — 
or else you're likely gonna lose your 
audience. Hey, those cats are
pretty darn cute!

My immediate impression upon first receiving ANOTHER 60 MINUTES OF WISDOM: Growth on the Go was — Oh great, another self-help guru, hocking the latest "feel-good." But as they say, never judge a book by its cover.

Author Derek Grier founded the Grace Church in Dumfries, Virginia back in 1998. Culled from his various 60-second radio talks that he first launched back in 2008, this is the 2013 follow-up to Grier's 2009 debut, 60 MINUTES OF WISDOM: Insights in an Instant.

Grier apparently is NOT a "guru." He's a pastor who possesses a passion for God and for the Word of God. He loves Jesus and clearly also has a heart for worship, service and people. And I certainly wouldn't classify his latest as a mere "feel-good" — although it did make me feel very good. But I always come away feeling good when I'm inspired and encouraged by the Word of God — especially when I'm hearing from someone else who's inspired and encouraged by the Word of God.

Clocking in at under 100 pages, ANOTHER 60 MINUTES OF WISDOM is a quick, concise and easy-to-read life guide. It's broken up into three fast-paced sections (Personal Growth, Relationships and Leadership) and each page (or so) represents one of Grier's popular 60-second radio messages. As a result, he makes his point in short order — and he does it by engaging readers with unique personal experiences, insights and humor.

Be sure, the title does not tout the author's "wisdom," but rather God's wisdom. It's a modern-day book of proverbs that addresses a host of such compelling topics as marriage, self-respect, patience, time management, relationship choices and much more — all of which is backed up 100% by relevant Scriptures.

For believers, it's a must-read. For non-believers, it's a must-read. Heck, making sound life choices is advantageous to everyone, regardless of which side of the spiritual fence you reside. In sum, ANOTHER 60 MINUTES OF WISDOM is an absolute, slam-dunk winner — one that I'm already recommending personally to friends, family and ministry colleagues!

-Christopher Long
(October 2013)

The latest from author Christopher Long
is available NOW on Amazon.

Also from Christopher Long...
Get it on Amazon. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

RECORD REVIEW: Jonny Lang "Fight for My Soul"

Fight for My Soul
Concord Records

Renowned blues ace
Jonny Lang released his
major label debut at the
tender age of 15 back in
1997. Today, at the ripe
old age of 32, Lang is an 
industry elder statesman.
And he recently returned
to the scene with his first
new record in six years.

Produced by Jonny Lang and Tommy Sims, Fight for My Soul combines all elements of Lang's signature soulful style and wraps them up into one appealing package.

"Blew Up (The House)" and "Breakin' In" open the record with a particular pop punch, while in the vein of Gavin DeGraw, "We are the Same" is more guitar-driven, yet hooky as heck.

Other highlights include, "What You're Looking For," which smacks of the Black Crowes' "Remedy" and "Thorn in My Pride" — good "smack" indeed. Oozing a distinct old school soulfuliciousness, "Not Right" is also a bona fide gem.

But despite the record's fresh factor, much of its charm blooms from the noticeable aforementioned retro influence. The Motown-flavored "The River" is fun and infectious, while the vocal arrangement and melody of the heartfelt love song, "All of a Sudden"  is undeniably Prince-inspired.

"I'll Always Be" is a soaring epic and makes for a mighty closer. However, blending Lang's acclaimed gritty guitar style with his signature whiskey-soaked, two-pack-a-day vocal style, "The Truth" stands out as the record's crowning jewel.

Bold and bluesy / sweet and stanky, the overdue return of Jonny Lang prompts me to ask, Dude, what took ya so long? www.JonnyLang.com

-Christopher Long
(October 2013)

The latest from author Christopher Long
is available NOW on Amazon.

Also from Christopher Long...
Get it on Amazon. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

CLASSIC ALBUMS LIVE: "Led Zeppelin III" (Guest Post)

Concert Photos: Michelle Wilson
"Guest Contributor"
Michelle Wilson returns 
to recap another amazing
concert performance.

The King Center / Melbourne, FL 

It’s that bittersweet time of the year for me as I find myself back at Melbourne, Florida’s Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts, reveling in the sights and sounds of the last Classic Albums Live performance of the 2013 season.

Wrapping up with a bang, Craig Martin’s Canadian-based collective was slated to recreate Led Zeppelin III "note for note, cut for cut" to a sold-out house. I looked around at all of the familiar faces, saying hello to people with whom I have become acquainted throughout the season, and I realized how lucky Melbourne is to be treated to these shows in our own backyard. For anyone who has never attended a CAL performance and may be thinking that this is just another cover band, think again. These are world-class musicians who will blow your mind.

Frontman Nick Hildyard
Tonight’s players included long-time frontman Nick Hildyard on lead vocals, Dom Polito and Shain Honkonen on guitar, Rick Vatour on drums, Jen Benton on bass, Carol Hensal on keyboards, Chad Berney on percussion and Bo Frazer on pedal steel and banjo.

The juxtaposition of Led Zeppelin III during the first half of the show with the heavier, more rockin’ material in the second half could not have been more diverse.

Multi-instrumentalist Bo Frazer
Zep III opens strong with such tracks as “Immigrant Song,” “Out on the Tiles” and “Gallows Pole,” but much of the remainder is fairly acoustic and mellow. Hildyard’s vocals were in top form, and the renditions of “Friends,” “Celebration Day,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” “Tangerine,” “That’s the Way” and “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” (complete with a clap-along quartet featuring Frazer, Hensal, Honkonen and Berney) were nothing short of impressive. Hometown multi-instrumentalist Bo Frazer added the pedal steel flavor to “That’s the Way” and “Tangerine,” and also provided the banjo on “Gallows Pole.” By the time “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” was over, the crowd was on its feet in mad applause and ready to tackle the second half of the show. 

Dom Polito
After the brief intermission, followed by a haunting version of “Thank You,” Hildyard informed the audience that it was “time for the caveman — we’re letting him out of the cage.” And on came Rick “Bonzo” Vatour who absolutely slayed “Moby Dick” with his own unique brand of showmanship. Next up was “The Song Remains the Same,” followed by “Heartbreaker / Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman),” “Ramble On,” and “How Many More Times.” The show rounded out with “Kashmir” as the encore, and the crowd once again was on its feet — sad to see it end. A stellar evening, to be sure, and a phenomenal end to an already memorable CAL season. 

Rick “Bonzo” Vatour
With so much drivel being passed off as music today, I happily will fork over the nominal fee to hear iconic albums being performed by professional, incredibly tal- ented musicians — especially given that many of the original artists no longer perform. But thankfully, the King Center gets it. And don’t think for even a minute that the performers don’t get it, too. Lead vocalist Nick Hildyard and bossman Craig Martin could not thank the venue and its staff enough, right down to the caterers and the office workers. Heck, Hildyard even went so far as jokingly (maybe?) to suggest a once a week gig at the King Center and to flood the inbox of Executive Director, Steve Janicki, echoing his suggestion. Uh, yeah! 

Hanging with Dom Polito and Rick Vatour.
Yes, another Classic Albums Live season has come to a close, but it certainly concluded in spectacular fashion. After attending four of the five shows this season, including Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon Animals and this performance of Led Zeppelin III, I am disheartened that the run is over, for now.  However, prior to the troupe taking the stage to delve into the evening’s performance, Martin popped out to address the eager crowd, thanking Melbourne for its unending support of CAL and reaffirming the King Center as one of CAL’s favorite venues. Martin further offered a glimpse into next season’s fresh lineup through a fun on-screen manual montage of album covers, compliments of Martin’s daughter (with the hint of one or two more shows before year’s end). Martin also mentioned the addition of a sixth performance next season rather than the usual five. The faithful flock of followers cheered and applauded enthusiastically as the new catalog was offered onscreen, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elton John’s Greatest Hits, Purple Rain from Prince, Band on the Run from Paul McCartney and Wings, The Beatles’ White Album and Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. I know that I, for one, will be in attendance for at least four of these, and I await next season with great anticipation.

-Michelle Wilson
(October 2013)

Do you have something to say, something to get off your chest or an amazing story to share? From pop culture views and reviews to political commentary to messages of faith, my blog is a great platform for writers to showcase their work. There are very limited criteria for submitting a post. Your views don't even have to be in line with mine — just create and contribute a compelling, well-written story. Interested? Send me and email.