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John Van Eps Spins Robert Lamm Chicago Hits Back to Future

Producer John Van Eps has taken 10 tracks from the band Chicago, de-constructed them and rebuilt them from the ground up, creating something so revolutionary, so different, that it’s taken me some time to digest and appreciate.

On The JVE ReMixes, Epps snipped lyrics, mostly from songs composed by Chicago keyboardist Robert Lamm, and essentially shifted around words ever so slightly to change their meaning, and in a sense, change the songs’ DNA.

At first blush, you might call this something akin to treason; but Van Epps has totally re-vamped and successfully modified the songs and gives them a very 21st-century spin. I remember first hearing Chicago when I was in college and yes, still have many of their original vinyl-releases.

Most know their signature hits like “Saturday in the Park” and “25 or 6 To 4.” Hell, Paul Shaffer and the Letterman band tear into at least one or two a week, and they still sound great. But as the years have passed, they seemed to have been pigeon-holed in the legacy circuit.

I actually saw them live for the first time last November at BB King’s Bar & Grill in New York, and they just blew me away. In fact, I realized that I had just seen one of the best shows in quite some time. They started in 1967, with original members Peter Cetera (who left), Terry Kath (deceased), and Lamm, had a brilliant run on the chartsand became a musical institution.

Chicago was the leading US singles charting group during the 1970s. They sold more than 38 million units in the US, with 22 gold, 18 platinum, and 8 multi-platinum albums. Over the course of their career they have had five number-one albums and 21 top-ten singles, according to chart-keeper Billboard.

The term “remix” implies re-working original tracks with fresh and original approach based on established melody lines. Eps went one better; he ripped the original concepts of the songs to shreds and re-built an alien creature; but, it all works. Lamm says worked with Eps “strictly through email and file sharing, actively reviewing, refining.”

In some ways I was the producer and John was the Artist,” he adds. “I have so much respect for him as a person and a musician.”

After all, the two had written and worked together on two of Lamm’s solo albums, Life Is Good in My Neighborhood and In My Head. Apparently, Lamm’s surviving band mates did not share is interest, which is why only Lamm’s songs got the Eps treatment.

As with any brilliantly staged project, not all the numbers work: “Beginnings” and “Saturday In The Park” are terrific. Even better is “Questions 67 & 68,” I don’t really recall it, but it’s a powerhouse of a track. For the record, when I saw them live this song got one of the best responses.

My favorite track without question is “On The Equinox” which is just brilliantly reproduced, with the horns teetering ever so gently against Lamm’s luscious vocals. For me, I could listen to this track all day long.

Brooklyn-born Lamm has always been my favorite Chicago member; his juicy personal life and career give even more depth to his work. For a treat, listen to his first solo album, 1975’s Skinny Boy.

To me, The JVE ReMIXES is indisputably one of the best releases of the year.

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