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Chicago - Chicago 25 [Aka: The Christmas Album] CD (album) cover




Jazz Rock/Fusion

2.58 | 19 ratings

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Easy Livin
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Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin


Between 1991 and 2006, Chicago were mainly active only as a live act. During that period, they rarely visited the studio, and when they did, it was almost exclusively to record other people's songs rather than their own. So it was that in 1998 the band decided to record a number of Christmas songs for this album, sub titled "Chicago 25". For the train-spotters wondering where "23" and "24" went, these are allocated to Volumes 1 and 2 of the "Heart of Chicago" compilations. This would be new lead guitarist Keith Howland's first album with the band, a role he continues to perform today.

There are of course no surprises here, the album simply presents fourteen Christmas songs played in the Chicago style. There is little opportunity for instrumental deviation, and the songs are kept short throughout. While it is by definition rather cheesy, songs such as "Little drummer boy". Complete with choir, do lend themselves rather well to the Chicago treatment.

One of the more notable tracks is the version of "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer", which is delivered as a bluesy, funky stomper, but by and large the renditions are faithful. "What child is this" features fine harmonies again, the song being sung to the tune of "Greensleeves".

The only new composition by a band member here is "A child's prayer", written by Lee Loughnane and John Durrill. It is though written very much in the traditional Christmas style, and should not be taken too seriously as a new Chicago song.

Clearly this album is not intended as anything other than a festive indulgence, and needs to be seen on that basis. It would be easy to simply dismiss it as being unworthy of the Chicago name, but to do so would be a severe disservice to the fine musicianship on display here, and the pleasant listening which the album offers.

In 2003, this album was re-released with six additional tracks under the new title "What's It Gonna Be, Santa?" and at the same time this album was withdrawn.


The Christmas six

"What's it gonna be Santa" is a repackaging of "Chicago 25, the Christmas album" with six additional tracks added.

Phil Ramone, who had worked with the band before on a couple of albums, was brought back as producer in 2003, the original intent being to record a complete new album. In the end though, cost and time factors precluded this, and the decision was taken to complete the album by adding all the tracks from "The Christmas album". The original tracks are resequenced and the new ones interspersed to create an entirely new running order. The packaging is completely revised too, effectively creating a new album.

Among the new tracks is a version of "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" which affords the band the opportunity to customise the lyrics to suit their own requirements in a band context. The track is also notable as being guitarist Keith Howland's first lead vocal for the band. The one new band composition is "Bethlehem", written by Bill and Tamara Champlin. The song has a CSN feel, with fine vocal harmonies being the centrepiece.

The six extra tracks here are certainly a welcome enhancement to the collection. While very much more of the same, even one new band composition was a welcome indication that they were still very much alive. The festive nature of the product will be dismissed by many as unworthy of investigation. This is though a highly credible collection of familiar songs.

Oddly, this release does not appear to have been allocated a sequential number in the Chicago discography, simply inheriting the number 25 from its predecessor.

Easy Livin | 3/5 |


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