Tuesday, August 06, 2013

California Transit Authority - Sacred Ground (2013)

Danny Seraphine's California Transit Authority (CTA) is back with their second album, Sacred Ground, and this time the band took the field with a real live horn section that sounds like it was cloned straight from his old band, Chicago.

Seraphine's current group is loaded with top notch session players who shared the spotlight with him on CTA’s 2007 debut, Full Circle. Ed Roth is on keys, Mick Mahan plays bass, and Peter Fish adds his keyboards to three tracks. The most important member is guitarist Mark Bonilla who also serves as CTA's unofficial music director. He co-produced the set with Seraphine, shared composing credits on eight of the fourteen tracks, and wrote most of the horn arrangements.

While Bonilla's horn charts frequently remind you of Jim Pankow's work with Chicago Sacred Ground's overall vibe is a hybrid of that band's two most productive periods: the James William Guercio years and the tougher sounding moments from the David Foster era. No overbearing power ballads are to be found.

Currently, CTA's lineup does not have a permanent vocalist. Instead, a bunch of all-stars, and singers who should be stars, share the wealth throughout the album.

Larry Braggs, who took most of the leads on Full Circle, shines here on a cover version of Blood, Sweat and Tears' "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know." While I can't say the new take is superior to the original Braggs adds a deep soul groove to the song that Al Kooper could never come close to delivering.

The only other cover is a reworking of Seraphine's outstanding "Take Me Back To Chicago" (from Chicago XI). While the new production misses Chaka Khan's exciting chant from that 1977 album track, CTA more than makes up for it with a new brass arrangement that feels less rehearsed (in a good way) than the original. Regardless, Seraphine wrote a very powerful and personal song that is outstanding in either version.

Bill Champlin, the drummer's former bandmate, takes a guest shot with one of his typically excellent vocals on "Full Circle," an unpretentious ballad about Seraphine’s return to music after his very long and emotional absence.

Other lead singers include Champlin's son Will, Eric Redd, and Wes Quave who stars on the only hornless song, the pretty ballad, "Daydream Lover."

Seraphine's solo to open "The Real World" is quite reminiscent of "Motorboat to Mars" from Chicago III and there are two party tunes, both instrumentals, "Primetime" and "In the Kitichen."

Overall, Sacred Ground is a joyous, high energy, jazz-rock affair with searing rock guitar courtesy of Bonilla, blasting horns, and soaring Peter Cetera-like vocals all expertly played with more joy than Chicago has shown us since way before Seraphine's departure.

If you want to read more on Danny Seraphine see these posts: a discussion about his autobiography, Street Player, a review of CTA's first CD, Full Circle, and last but not least, an analysis of every Chicago album from the Terry Kath era.

1 comment:

  1. Can't wait to hear this. Loved the first one, was hoping that Larry Braggs would continue as lead vocalist. I'm excited by the participation of the multi-talented Mark Bonilla who most recently worked with Keith Emerson. He adds so much to ELP favorites like "Lucky Man" that they are almost like new songs - see the excellent DVD, the Keith Emerson Band Live in Moscow.