Monday, 7 May 2012

Album Review: Robert Lamm - Living Proof

Despite his key role in Chicago’s early success, Robert Lamm was, in some ways, a victim of their ‘faceless’ status and has never received the recognition he deserves as a songwriter and performer in his own right. Indeed, despite his first solo album (Skinny Boy) coming out during Chicago’s mid-70s commercial peak it sank without a trace and he didn’t resume his solo career until the mid-90s. Sadly, a songwriting renaissance coincided with a severe decline in recording activity for the band he helped launch to superstardom with songs such as Beginnings, 25 Or 6 to 4 and Saturday in the Park, hence the marked increase in solo activity in recent decades. This late-career burst of creativity is clearly far from over, judging by this latest effort.

With the exception of 2003’s well-received Subtlety and Passion album, which featured Chicagoesque horn arrangements, and guest spots from most of the then-current line-up of the band, Lamm has generally used his solo work to explore different styles and textures, and on Living Proof, while there are a handful of songs that would fell at home on a classic Chicago album (opener Out of the Blue being the most obvious example) for the most part the territory explored here is closer to the urban sophistication of In My Head – the album that, until now, was my favourite of his solo output.  

As Lamm’s liner notes (available to download from, along with the song lyrics/credits, etc) make clear the gestation period of some of these songs was decades rather than days, and the fact that he’d previously abandoned some of the ideas that have finally come to fruition on this album is a lesson for all artists to never throw anything away. Several tracks had been submitted for inclusion on various Chicago albums over the years, some in drastically different versions, but at least one (I Confess) was submitted (and rejected) for Chicago XXX which is astonishing, as it is quite possibly the best song any member of Chicago has penned in decades. If Chicago ever return to the studio to record music that isn’t Christmas-themed (chance would be a fine thing) this simply has to be a contender, despite its inclusion here.

While it was once unusual to see a Lamm-penned tune with a co-writer credit, the opposite is now true and on this occasion there are multiple co-writes from long-term collaborator Hank Linderman, as well as more recent acquaintances Trent Gardner and Zosia, all of whom bring different things to the table and help to provide a tremendous diversity to the material. Tantalisingly he also mentions Peter Cetera as one of the writers he sent song ideas to for this album, but doesn’t give any indication of what response, if any, was received.

Zosia actually turns out to be something of a secret weapon on this album, appearing as a vocalist on all three of her contributions and expanding her presence throughout the album from backing vocalist (on Arise)  to duet singer (on the tremendously catchy Those Crazy Things) to sole vocalist on first bonus track Liquid Sky. She is very much a worthy successor to Lamm’s previous duet partner, the late Phoebe Snow.

To my mind Lamm was always Chicago’s most consistent – and overlooked – vocalist, and his voice has only changed slightly over the past four decades; the warmth that was always its defining characteristic is present as ever  - even the ‘gruff’ voice he employs for much of On the Equinox doesn’t hide this – though it does demonstrate a rarely-seen versatility (though this has been evident on record since at least Chicago III and I Don’t Want Your Money).

While I’ve casually referenced my absolute favourites on the album above, there isn’t a weak moment to be found - without exception all of the songs here will echo in your head for days after listening.

The album ends with a second bonus track - namely a remix of On the Equinox - but this is not a slightly-altered reprise of the ‘official’ version – it really does feel like a completely different song. As a preview of the upcoming ‘Songs of Robert Lamm’ remixes album on which it will be featured alongside other drastically re-worked classics from the Lamm songbook, old and new, it bodes extremely well.

With a total running time of around 40 minutes (including the two ‘bonus’ tracks) this is an album that definitely leaves you wanting more (and as a result I often replay both Those Crazy Things and I Confess once I’ve finished the album as a whole), which is how it should be. Overall this is definitive (one might say living...but one won’t!) proof (if any were needed) that, whatever is happening with his ‘day job’, Lamm’s creativity is undiminished – while the work included here would obviously reach a much wider audience if released under the Chicago banner, I’ll happily take the undiluted approach doing things on his own allows him for as long as he cares to write and record. Fans of early Chicago in particular or (cliché warning) great music in general, need to check this out. (9/10)

PS - I don’t generally bother with samples myself, but if you’re wanting a preview of the album here you go!


  1. CarolAnne Lugiano10 November 2012 at 10:42

    WOW...what a great review!!!! It was so comprehensive and so flattering. I wish I could have expressed myself that fluently in my earlier review. Uncle Unkool said a lot of what I was thinking but didn't have the musical/editorial skills to lay it out so well.
    I agree with the assessment that Robert is not receiving the credit he deserves as a singer/songwriter. Those of us who are hard-core Chicago fans know that he is a prolific musician in his own right; however, that's what happens when one is a part of a deliberately "faceless" band. One sort of blends in, no matter how creative one is.
    All of Robert's solo projects have been diverse, eclectic and intriguing. He shows such a wide range of musical knowledge and his collaborations have added a whole new dimension to his work.
    I love "Living Proof" because of how Robert takes classic Chicago tunes; as well as his solo project songs, and transforms them into something different yet thoroughly enjoyable. I also never tire of listening to the CD and album.

  2. An amazing review fitting for an amazing artist and his latest work. I even share the opinion on the best songs on the album. WELL SAID!

  3. Thanks for the comments Carol Anne and Macy - glad you enjoyed the posting...not to mention the album!!

  4. CarolAnne Lugiano16 November 2012 at 09:00

    I made a terrible error in my review and owe a major apology to Robert!!! It suddenly occurred to me that my comments were geared toward the JVE Remixes and not Living Proof!!! The comments that were directed to Uncle Unkool's review of Living Proof and Robert were sincere and accurate. It's the other comment about transforming the classic Chicago tunes and solo stuff that was way off base.

    I will respond later and make my comments "Living Proof specific," but I wanted to clear the air first.

  5. I'm not commenting on the review. I'm just enjoying my inner soul being brought alive again by this great music. I sure miss that in today's shallow musical market.

    This one blew me away. Out of the Blue messed my mind. I heard the song writing talent and passion of Robert while seeing Terry in my mind. I even heard a few of those licks he used to play. He is here with us.

    Bravo Robert! The resurrection of good music, melodies and life memories, is good for the soul and mind. Thank you for digging deep and spilling this out on us.

  6. CarolAnne Lugiano29 December 2012 at 12:39

    If anyone wants to hear any semblance of what you've come to know and love as "Chicago" music, you're in for a very unexpected and pleasant surprise. This is Robert Lamm at his most innovative and best. His colloborations with Trent Gardner, Hank Linderman and ZoSia are top notch.

    The first song on "Living Proof" is entitled "Out of the Blue" which Robert wrote as a sort of memorial to Terry Kath (original Chicago guitarist) and Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys who are no longer with us. Robert says this is about being quiet and listening to what goes into your head when there's no outside noise to disturb your thoughts. "Out of the Blue" is a funky song with several changes in tempo/beat that still maintain the integrity of the song.

    "Arise" is a tune where ZoSia is telling her own story with Robert providing the music. It reminds me of Europop...bouncy and fun to listen to. The harmony between Robert and ZoSia is just beautiful and ZoSia is like the female vocal version of Robert Lamm. A perfect fit.

    To my untrained ears, "4 Bells" sounds rather somber, but still nice to listen to. This song showcases Robert's rich and smooth vocals as he sings about his good fortune and what he still feels he needs to accomplish.

    "Equinox" is a rather strange sounding song, but I've grown to love it. Robert's gruff vocals were a shock to my sensitive ears, yet in some odd way, it's rather sexy. I don't think he would have been able to successfully pull it off any other way. Robert does revert back to his "normal" singing voice at some point in the song, but I yearned for the gruffness, which he gives back to us by the end of the song.

    The fifth song on the album is entitled "Crazy Things;" which is another terrific collaboration with ZoSia. It's upbeat and bouncy and you find yourself tapping your fingers and feet the entire time. Robert says that when he received ZoSia's lyrics it reminded him of the time he and his wife Joy "found" each other. It's a lovely duet between Robert and ZoSia.

    "Keep the Faith" sounds to me like a rap sort of song about being brave and having spiritual inspiration. There is a definite change in the beat/tempo and the bridge/refrain sounds eerie to me. That's not a criticism because it builds to a crescendo that reinforces the point of keeping the faith, looking ahead and not looking back. Great song.

    The title track, "Living Proof" is a nice slow song that talks of a perfect love. The refrain on this song strongly emphasizes the strength of love and the music builds to that point in a really nice and convincing way.

    "I Confess" is another tune that I can't get out of my head. Robert has said some parts of the song are about what was in his heart and other parts are what you imagine them to be for yourself. I simply love the lyrics and they resonate with me in a satisfying way.

    "Liquid Sky" is one of the bonus tracks and this one features ZoSia. It has a smooth jazz type beat and really showcases her beautiful vocals. The song is about missing someone and finding ways to hurry home. I totally love this song!

    The second bonus track on the album is a remix of "On the Equinox." This is a much funkier version than the track that is featured earlier on "Living Proof." The steady drum beats and cool trumpet sounds add to the distinctive difference between the two. Robert's alternately gruff and smooth vocals are still present, but the melody is extraordinary. My initial response was, "What in the world??????" but this is another tune that quickly grew on me.

    This is a terrific album/CD and I strongly encourage you to buy not only "Living Proof" but all of Robert's solo projects.

  7. He should write a song about a man who rips others off and lies about it.