To many, the late Terry Kath (guitar/vocals) was the heart and soul of Chicago. This is especially true of his contributions to the band's early blend of jazz with amped-up unadulterated wailing guitar rock. Sadly, Kath's tenure with the group was cut tragically short when, in late January of 1978, he accidentally and fatally shot himself. In hindsight, the band never fully recovered from the loss, and it would take four years before Chicago would creatively and critically reinvent itself on Chicago 16 (1982). The Innovative Guitar of Terry Kath (1997) includes 14 seminal selections and examples of the string man at the peak of his prowess. While there are no previously unissued songs, this compilation scans the nine Chicago studio long-players that Kath performed on as well the incendiary readings of "25 or 6 to 4" and "Mississippi Delta City Blues" from the must-own Live in Japan 1972 concert set. The track list is rather heavily represented, and rightfully so, by the first three Chicago titles -- Chicago Transit Authority (1969) , Chicago II (1970), and Chicago III (1971). Among them are the fully improvised "Free Form Guitar," "Listen," "An Hour in the Shower," and "South California Purples." Chronologically, later offerings include "Dialogue, Pts. 1-2" from Chicago V (1972) and "Darlin' Dear" off of Chicago VI (1973). Although the follow-up Chicago VII (1974) is glossed over, "Ain't It Blue?" ably represents Chicago VIII (1975) and both the soulful "Scrapbook" and the Memphis-style R&B rave-up on "Once or Twice" are taken from Chicago X (1976). (Note that 1975's Chicago IX was the band's first "best-of" and contained no new songs.) Kath's final effort was Chicago XI (1978); there is nothing featured from that album, although it is represented via the previously mentioned version of "Mississippi Delta City Blues" from Live in Japan 1972. While hardcore enthusiasts will inevitably have all of these selections, the real audience for The Innovative Guitar of Terry Kath is the uninitiated and burgeoning listener who is well-served by the broad range of the selected materials.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer