After a 21 year hiatus, The Sons of Champlin, reunited for a live concert at the Luther Burbank Center in Burbank, CA. The line-up featured original members Bill Champlin on vocals, piano/organ, guitar and vocals; Geoff Palmer on keyboards Hammond organ, and vibraphone and Terry Haggerty on guitar and vocals. It also featured bassist Dave Schallock and drummer James Preston who had been in the band in the early-mid seventies and a whole new horn section featuring saxophonist Tom Saviano, and Tower of Power alum Mic Gillette on trumpet & trombone. This 90s incarnation of the psychedelic SF Bay area soul funk band may have changed a few faces, but the new faces only served to spice-up the line-up and give it more edge.
Shortly before going back into the studio, guitarist Terry Haggerty opted out of the band in order to take his music in a different direction. In his place, Tal Morris, gives the Sons a new edge for a new millennium. While Haggerty’s more jazz-influenced guitar chops will be missed, Morris proves himself more than equal to the task—fitting into this band like a missing puzzle piece.
Hip Li’l Dreams doesn’t miss a beat, picking up where 1977’s Loving Is Why left off. The horns are just as “in your face” as they were in the Sons heyday, Bill Champlin is at his gritty & soulful best and he even brought in some extra friends & family for “assistance” on a few tracks. On Dream On Bill shares the vocals with son, Will. Bill’s wife, Tamara lends her voice to the soulful ballad, I’m Not Your Lover. But the most conspicuous guest performances are Doobie Brothers alum, Tom Johnston, and Toto vocalist, Bobby Kimball sharing the lead vocals on the title track with Bill Champlin. Their soulful vocals offer both an excellent complement and counterpoint to Champlin’s.
One of the recurring themes of Champlin’s songs is the corruption and lack of talent in the music industry. His Star Outa’ You is a giant middle finger to an industry which finds itself increasingly mired in pretension, mediocrity, and redundancy. It’s lyrically is one of the best, if not THE best song on the album.
Geoff Palmer’s organ and vibraphone is exceptional from start to finish but especially stands out on Swim (organ) and Soul Explosions (vibraphone). The mere inclusion of a vibraphone into a rock group was one of the aspects of the Sons which set them apart from other horn bands like Blood Sweat & Tears, Chicago, and Tower of Power from their inception. Palmer’s talents are as integral to the Sons’ sound as Champlin’s gritty baritone, or the horn section’s wall of brass.
The album ends with a re-working of Light Up the Candles which initially appeared on Bill Champlin’s Through It All album back in 1995. Where the original arrangement was stark and minimalist, the Sons' arrangement is more lush and full. Unfortunately, this is a song that worked because of its simplicity, and while the Sons’ reworking is interesting it’s missing the intimacy of Champlin’s original arrangement.
This is not an album to be missed. It’s got the “brass” balls that dare to be different, that special something that sets it apart from all of the pre-fab cookie-cutter Los Angeles music industry lowest common denominator fodder. So close your eyes, open your ears, and let the Sons of Champlin take you on a musical journey you won’t soon forget!