The Sons of Champlin

Hip Li'l Dreams

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While never major-league San Francisco hitters back in the day, the Sons of Champlin made some pleasantly soulful noises, and this return to the studio could make longtime fans drool. In many ways the music is what they always did, just a bit longer in the tooth and more sophisticated. Certainly the opener, "For Joy," gets off to a cracking start. Time has only sharpened their musical chops, and their sound is often as smooth as cream. Sometimes, however, that's a bit too much -- "Bring Home the Gold" ends up sounding unfortunately as if they're auditioning to be a Chicago tribute band, and "I'm Not Your Lover" could almost have come out of the '80s Cyndi Lauper ballad book. At times they try to make the rhythm sound programmed, to offer a contemporary edge, and the "Yo" at the beginning of "Star Outa' You" gives that very faint urban touch. But for the most part, other than the production gloss, this album could have stepped straight out of the 1970s, although whether that's a good thing or not depends on your point of view. "Swim" has Tal Morris' guitar flying all over the place, but for the most part it's Bill Champlin's voice and unobtrusive keyboard style that glues everything together. The vocal harmonies are so tight you couldn't slip a dime between them, and the songwriting is good, but not always inspired. But whether it will really appeal to anyone who's not already a long-term committed fan remains to be seen.

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