Any discussion of The Sons Of Champlin, Bill Champlin's recently revived 1960s band, inevitably leads one to a discussion of his other horn band, the far more famous and successful group that takes it's name from America's second city, Chicago.
Champlin was recording horn band influenced rock with The Sons before Chicago ever released their first LP, Chicago Transit Authority, in 1969. I'm certain his horn band experience played a large part in his invitation to join Chicago in 1981 to replace the soulful vocals of the late Terry Kath and to replace keyboard player Robert Lamm who was thought to be leaving. Fortunately Lamm never left but Champlin, who is considered a master of the Hammond B-3 organ, stayed on anyway and remains a member of Chicago to this day.
Because Chicago sold their souls to the devil (and spent most of their later years as a power ballad atrocity in the studio and as a traveling oldies road show when on tour) they have largely squandered Champlin's many talents. It has often been speculated that he mostly considers Chicago his day job and that The Sons are his first love. If that is true his heart is in a good place. It is nice to have The Sons operating at full steam so Champlin can show the world what he can contribute.
The horns on Hip Lil' Dreams are frequently buried too far in the mix for my taste so while I may still prefer the sound of the Chicago horns when they are ramped up and at the top of their game this CD proves, that over the course of a full album, Champlin and his band have more soul than Chicago has had in twenty-five years and they can out-funk and out-rock them anytime they choose. The CD's opening track, "For Joy," is an all out rocker with wailing horns. The title cut is truly funky. "Bring Home the Gold" proves that Champlin is not afraid to tackle social concerns with lines like "We stand aside and waive goodbye, and send the kids out to fight, and, maybe bring home the gold." On "Star Outta You" he takes on the music industry: "Ya’ Gotta be filthy, ya gotta smoke crack, you gotta have a bad attitude, a reputation in the sack and always howlin' at the moon. Ya gotta sound just like everyone else, gotta be loud and rude. If you're just another hack I can make a star out of you." The irony is that these lyrics prove Champlin has a little bit of that "bad attitude" in his music and that is a good thing.
Champlin's fellow Chicagoans can learn a little from Hip Li'l Dreams. Four of the seven Sons of Champlin are original members who obviously enjoy their gig. I'm not recommending this album just because it's superior to Chicago's most recent work, 2006's XXX. I want you to seek out The Sons because they are worthy of your attention on their own merits.
For more on Hip Li'l Dreams be sure to read the The Review Revue.