Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Robert Lamm - Subtlety & Passion (2003)

For the uninitiated, or for those of you who just plain forgot who he is, Robert Lamm is the original keyboardist and one of the three lead singers of the ancient rock band with horns, Chicago. It was the great combination of the underrated guitar prowess of the late Terry Kath, James Pankow’s horn section, and Lamm’s songs that brought Chicago to the forefront of American rock music in 1969. While Lamm’s influence on the band’s music waned over the decades as it succumbed to Peter Cetera’s ballads and trendy 1980s synthesizers, he and the horn section have remained loyal members of the group to this day.

Lamm has always been the band’s best and most eclectic composer. He is responsible for such Chicago gems as “Beginnings,” “25 or 6 to 4,” “Saturday In The Park,” “Dialogue,” Questions 67 and 68,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” and many more.

While the current version of Chicago still has a loyal fan base and they play to sellout audiences in many venues they have not recorded and released an album of original music in more than a decade. The reasons for this long drought generate wild speculation among the devoted but the reasons are truly unknown. Lamm has voiced his frustration with Chicago’s lack of newly recorded music but he has used the band’s creative hiatus to record his own “Chicago” album. While his past solo albums have tried to steer clear of his group’s signature sound Lamm has gone to great lengths to sound as much like Chicago as he possibly can on his recent release Subtlety & Passion.

There are horns on ten of the eleven tracks. If you appreciate the sound of mid 70s Chicago LPs like the jazz oriented Chicago VII this disc will come as a welcome surprise. All but one of Chicago’s present lineup play on S&P. Trumpeter Lee Loughnane is everywhere and turns in some of his best work ever. “Intensity” even includes a sample of an old Terry Kath guitar solo that was never used prior to now. Current Chicago drummer Tris Imboden and bassist Jason Scheff assist Lamm on every track.

While Lamm has almost never been a true avant-garde or alternative composer he has always written very creative pop music with an eclectic edge that elevates his songs into a realm of their own. Most of S&P is in the smooth jazz or light R&B vein but there are a few exceptions. “Intensity” is an appropriately named tune. Lamm’s commentaries on American life are still intact after all these years as “Gimme Gimme” so accurately proves. The song is about the entertainment business and the self-congratulatory awards they bestow upon themselves through an endless stream of prime time television programs shown every year. It may be Lamm’s way of thumbing his nose at the perennial snub given Chicago by Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall Of Shame. “It’s Always Something” co-written with drummer Imboden is the only hornless tune but even that succeeds in a way most hornless Chicago songs never have because of the edge Lamm brings to the table. Imboden’s harmonica adds a nice touch. “For you, Kate” is about Lamm's love for his daughter and it succeeds without being sappy. "Another Sunday" could be "Wake Up Sunshine" Part Two. There is much, much more.

Thank you Mr. Lamm for one of the best CDs of 2003.


  1. Great review Charlie! I agree with all of it. This is by far the best album Robert has put out so far. Each one of his albums gets better and better. I can't imagine him topping S&P, but I know he will.


  2. check out Robert Lamm at