In his first solo release since 1996, Bill Champlin demonstrates he's still got "it." For those unfamiliar, Champlin is a grizzled veteran vocalist, organist, songwriter who cut his teeth with his namesake band, the Sons of Champlin in the late sixties and through the seventies before stringing together a couple of Grammys (in 1979 for co-writing the Earth Wind & Fire hit, After the Love Is Gone and in 1983 for George Benson's R&B hit Turn Your Love Around) and a twenty-eight year stint as one of Chicago's three primary lead vocalists.
Towards the end of his tenure in Chicago, Champlin found the time to move from southern California to Nashville and record No Place Left to Fall. Ever the consumate professional, there is a definite polished quality in his production. But, at the same time, No Place Left to Fall is a departure from his previous albums. The material is considerably "swampier" than what fans of Champlin are likely used to. The blue-eyed soul is still there, but where on his previous albums the organ was there, on No Place Left to Fall it's no longer merely "there," it's quite prominent. Bill's love for his B-3 is evident throughout.
Throughout the album, Champlin explores his influences, the soul and R&B influences are never far from the surface but he does inject hints of country (on Angelina) and the aforementioned tight production is a product of his 28 plus years in Chicago. Where he does Chicago one better is he knows when to stop polishing. Some of Chicago's more recent releases were produced to the point of sterility where no emotion was left in the songs. Champlin knows when to keep polishing and when to show restraint and allow a bit of grit to seep onto the album.
He even takes one of Chicago's biggest hits, Look Away, which he and Chicago took to number one all the way back in 1988 and rearranges it and sings it the way HE wants to, on his own terms. Where the Chicago version sounded forced, Champlin's acoustic arrangement sounds more soulful and Champlin is decidedly more comfortable in his own skin than he was when singing the Chicago version all those years ago (and for several years since, night after night, year after year on the road).
All in all this album is bittersweet. Chicago had Champlin's talents at their disposal for twenty-eight years. It's his solo material that really shines a light on how under-utilized Champlin was during his tenure in Chicago. Perhaps if they'd loosened the leash on Champlin, he could have restored some credibility to their music, credibility that started to slip away even before the untimely passing of Terry Kath in 1978. His membership in Chicago was a musical gift, and for 28 years, that gift was largely squandered and reduced to singing Terry Kath-karaoke.
If you think you know Champlin based on his contributions to Chicago, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. No Place Left to Fall blows away even his best contributions to his now former band and affirms its place as one of his best solo endeavours.
*released digitally and on CD in Europe and Japan in 2008. Not released on CD in the US until August 4, 2009
No Place Left to Fall (allmusic.com)
Bill Champlin (official site)
Bill Champlin (wikipedia)