The Music of Styx - Live with Symphony Orchestra
The former leader of Chicago's '70s-'80s hitmakers Styx has spent the past few years performing his hits with symphony orchestras around the country, and has staged several shows here in Chicago, where the idea originated.
He's also taped and aired a performance on TV's Channel 11-WTTW. Now, at long last, you can listen to the results at home on a two-CD set — and those results are worth hearing.
A lot of bands over the past decade (Moody Blues, Kansas, etc.) have pumped up their past hits with orchestra accompaniment. But Styx's often theatrical arrangements, as well as DeYoung's solo works, are perfectly suited to the marriage of pop and classical. "Suite Madame Blue," the most complex and inventive track from Styx's 1975 album Equinox, offers a wonderful marriage of timpani, horns and electric guitar-excess here. And "Castle Walls," a song from the band's 1977 album, The Grand Illusion, was never played live on tour by the band, so it's a rare and welcome treat. Here, the orchestra perfectly captures the somber, eerie medieval mood of the original studio recording and takes it to a new level of power, with the addition of a children's choir.
DeYoung is in fine voice throughout, and performs radio hits like "Lady," "Lorelei," "Babe," "Don't Let It End," "Mr. Roboto," "Show Me the Way," "Rockin' the Paradise," "Best of Times" and his signature showstopper, "Come Sail Away." All of these tracks are enriched by the orchestra's warm, broad arrangements ("Lady" features a nice dramatic tango finale).
Singers Dawn Marie Feusi and Mike Eldred join him at the microphone for evocative performances of "With Every Heartbeat" and "Ave Maria," two songs from DeYoung's musical version of the "Hunchback of Notre Dame." Fans will appreciate having the Eldred recordings, as he played Quasimodo in the Nashville production of DeYoung's musical, which most Chicago fans never had the opportunity to see.
In addition, both of the CDs end with new solo studio recordings from DeYoung. Disc 1 ends with "Hello God," a gentle piano hymn about a man's spiritual introspection in which he sings: "I'm not the kind of guy who quotes your word chapter and verse/but I sure could stand to hear from you tonight."
Disc 2 also ends with a spiritual bent, though with an entirely different attitude. "My God (Can Beat Up Your God)" is a fun, new soulful song about the foolish fighting humanity continues to do over religion. The final new song, "Goodnight My Love," is a lightweight ballad full of falsettos and "don't leave me" sentiment.
The CD is only available through DeYoung's Web site (www.dennisdeyoung.com) and at performances – one of which is coming up soon.
DeYoung will perform with the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra and Chicago Children's Choir at the Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont on Feb. 7.
Rainy Day Music
The Pop Stops Top CD of 2003 was the Thorns' self-titled folk-rock harmony debut. But while Matthew Sweet's presence in that band brought it plenty of attention, another well-produced marriage of pop harmony and folk flavor passed by relatively unnoticed. The Jayhawks' Rainy Day Music is a long-awaited followup to 2000's Smile, which featured the popular single of the same name.
Released in the middle of last year, Rainy Day Music garnered a four-star rating from Rolling Stone magazine, but didn't spin off a hit like "Smile," in large part because this is a quieter, folksier recording that brings to mind the country-rock albums of the early '70s. Nevertheless, songs like "All the Right Reasons," "Angelyne" and the gorgeous "Eyes of Sarah Jane" feature strong hooks and wonderfully rich harmonies.
"Madman" features the same kind of full-blown, all-song harmony structure popularized by Crosby, Stills and Nash that the Thorns employed on their debut last year. And "Don't Let the World Get in Your Way" sounds like a collaboration between Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie and John Lennon.
With the rootsy flavor of the strumming guitars, occasional harmonica strains, and easy loping basslines, Rainy Day Music should appeal to fans of the early '70s albums of The Grateful Dead, Gram Parsons and America, as well as of current artists like the Thorns. This is a warm, rewarding disc of solid songwriting, sweet harmonies and melancholy musing.