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Styx - The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings CD (album) cover




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3.35 | 23 ratings

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4 stars When most folks think of Styx, they obviously think of "Come Sail Away", "Renegade", "Blue Collar Man", etc. The late 70s / early 80s hits. Most folks aren't familiar with the band's first four albums, recorded for a small label with sometimes crappy production before getting signed to A&M Records. And that's too bad, because there are many treasures to be discovered here.

I've been a fan of these four albums for many years now, and I'm very excited to see them remastered and in a single collection.

In many ways, the least Styx-ish of the set is the first album, STYX. Only about half the album was written by Dennis DeYoung and/or James Young; the rest is made up of cover songs, and even includes a George Clinton tune! :-) Oddly, the album opens with the longest track the band, in any of its incarnations, would ever record: "Movement for the Common Man". However, it also gives us one of the band's early gems, the wonderful "Best Thing."

STYX II is a real triumph, a huge leap forward, with all the material coming from Dennis (mainly) and John Curulewski. Its a very cohesive album, much moreso than the first and third. It features the only enduring hit from this era, the lovely (and overplayed) DeYoung ballad "Lady". But in addition to this, we also get a few other winners: Dennis' "Father O.S.A." (I never knew what the initials stood for) and "Earl of Roseland" (a fun song about his early pre-Styx days in Chicago ["I can see Charlie on the porch, Johnny clicking his sticks / And two boys I don't even know rehearsing electric string tricks"]), and John C's absolutely superb "A Day". Spend some time with this song and it will reward you handsomely.

While II belonged mostly to Dennis, THE SERPENT IS RISING has JY and JC taking the reins, and what we find is what an unpredictable character JC is. Each of his few songs sound totally different from each other, ranging from II's gorgeous "A Day" to SERPENT's quirky title song and completely bizarre "Krakatoa" (and let's not overlook the silly and completely weird "Plexiglass Toilet"!!!). Both are very strong works, with "Krakatoa" being very experimental and 'soundscape-y'. JY turns in a couple of real gems here as well: "Witch Wolf" and "Young Man" are both terrific songs. He also gives a really great vocal performances on two Dennis-penned tunes, "Winner Takes All" and the excellent "Jonas Psalter". Plus, this album features one of my favourite Dennis songs of all time, the enigmatic "The Grove of Eglantine".

MAN OF MIRACLES closes the Wooden Nickel era, and is not only less experimental than STYX or SERPENT, but gives us glimpses of what's to come. This is much more a band album, with each guy contributing equally strong material (as opposed to II being very Dennis-driven and SERPENT being steered by JY and JC). Most of the stand-outs here come from Dennis. Most people point out "Golden Lark" and "Song for Suzanne", but for me, the highlights are "Mr. Christopher" and the absolutely excellent "Evil Eyes". Go have a listen to these less obvious tunes and see why they're so damn good. JY's songs here are mostly okay, "Man Like Me" and "Southern Woman" being the best. But the real surprise comes at the end: the title track is a brilliant song, and gives us shades of some of Styx's later mini-epics. JY's vocals on this song are absolutely outstanding, and Dennis' keyboards in the middle are foreshadowings of "Come Sail Away".

All-in-all, these are four very good albums, that show a band coming into its own, expanding its talents and abilities, and experimenting with classical music, church organs, spoken word pieces, cover tunes, and still turning in some very good, straightfoward rock music. They also show what a prominent role JY had in the band prior to Tommy Shaw's arrival in 1976.

And I'm completely thrilled to have them in my CD collection in newly remastered form.

rasiler | 4/5 |


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