One with Everything

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Rock bands classified as "progressive" have been pairing off with symphony orchestras for decades, sometimes with positive results, a good example being Procol Harum Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, that group's biggest selling album. According to guitarist/singer Tommy Shaw, who has been fronting Styx since a legal settlement with former singer/keyboardist Dennis DeYoung gave him, guitarist James "JY" Young, and mostly retired bass player Chuck Panozzo the right to perform under the band's name in 2001, the group mostly avoided hooking up with orchestras until an offer came in from the Contemporary Youth Orchestra (CYO) of Cleveland, OH, a massive ensemble of 115 musicians along with a 56-member choir, all of them teenagers. Their live encounter with the CYO constitutes their second release on Universal's New Door imprint, formed to revitalize the careers of veteran acts with large catalogs in the company's archives, following the 2005 covers collection Big Bang Theory. Actually, the idea of coming up with orchestral arrangements for Styx songs is not a bad one, or, at least, it wouldn't be if the present group was willing to choose from its entire repertoire, including the more melodic ballads written by the departed DeYoung. But a decision seems to have been made to avoid giving royalties to the band's former leader, so the songs all have to be Shaw compositions, numbers written by the present group, or covers. The result is a record that finds Styx rocking harder than it perhaps should under the circumstances. The CYO may be a worthy outfit, but most of the time it's nearly impossible to tell because they are inaudible as pitted against the amplified rock group. Early on, it sounds as if the mixing desk hasn't quite configured the room correctly, a common enough problem at concerts; the sound improves noticeably as the disc goes on. An early highlight is an arrangement of "I Am the Walrus" that follows the Beatles' original closely. The choir seems to be having a wonderful time singing "Woah" in the chorus. It's good, but it's not what one expects from Styx. The orchestra gets to peek out here and there, notably in the introduction to "Miss America," but it spends a lot of the evening doubling Lawrence Gowan's keyboard parts. At least it can be said that the youngsters are getting a good sense of what an arena rock concert is like, as Shaw treats them to a range of clich├ęd stage remarks such as, "One word: awesome!" He also talks about wanting to play all night, which, as usual, is a signal that the show is about to end. For no apparent reason, there is a new, original, studio-recorded track in the middle of the disc, "Just Be." It suggests that this faux Styx may be trying to turn into the faux Pink Floyd of the late '80s.

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