Chicago

Chicago 25: The Christmas Album

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When Chicago first achieved national recognition in the late '60s and early '70s, it wasn't hip for rock bands to make Christmas albums. Things changed, of course, but it took until 1998 for Chicago to finally fill this missing item in its catalog, at a time when the group seemed to have entered that phase of its career when it wanted to keep putting out records but didn't want to risk releasing new material. (Chicago's three previous releases had consisted of an album of big-band standards and two greatest-hits sets.) Whatever the circumstances, however, it was good to hear the Chicago style applied to seasonal standards. As ever, the group was a cooperative unit, with the three lead singers -- Bill Champlin, Robert Lamm, and Jason Scheff -- taking turns on the different songs, arranged by various bandmembers and always allowing for generous contributions by the horn players Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, and Walt Parazaider. The songs were all seasonal favorites except for Loughnane and John Durrill's "Child's Prayer," featuring a choir dominated by the musicians' children, which sounded so much like a Middle Ages English hymn that it fit right in. Highlights included a particularly moving vocal on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by the gruff-voiced Champlin, a wonderful doubled flute passage by Parazaider on "O Come All Ye Faithful," and a rare lead vocal by Loughnane on "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" But the whole album, pristinely produced by E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan, was well performed. It sounded exactly like you would expect a Chicago Christmas album to sound, and if you liked the band and holiday music, you'd like the record, too.

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