It's not much of a stretch to say that Robert Lamm is the heart and soul of Chicago. Since founding that seminal horn-rock band with Terry Kath, Peter Cetera, Lee Loughnane, Walter Parazaider, James Pankow, and Danny Seraphine, Lamm has contributed some of the band's most memorable songs including "Saturday in the Park," "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is," "Beginnings," "25 or 6 to 4," and "Another Rainy Day in New York City." Lamm's work has always been equal parts craft and conscience, bearing a confident knack for melodic rock and a searing social awareness. He released his first solo effort, the underrated Skinny Boy, in 1974, but didn't release another LP on his own until the 1990s (1993's Life is Good in My Neighborhood). A refreshing new collection from Omnivore Recordings, Time Chill: A Retrospective (OVCD-222) draws on Lamm's deeply personal solo work from 1999 on, to showcase a recognizable yet different side of the Chicago singer-songwriter-keyboardist. Five previously unreleased tracks are among its treasures.
The opening track - the introspective, downbeat piano ballad "Four Bells" - is classic Lamm, but elsewhere on Time Chill, the troubadour indulges his musical imagination with a variety of styles. He even raps a bit over the tough, urban beats of "Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed." Yet as the title of Time Chill indicates, laidback grooves are de rigeur on this collection - none more so than the recordings made for 2008's The Bossa Project. "Sing to Me Lady" boasts a beautiful, gentle bossa nova shimmer, while the previously unreleased outtake of Bobby Hebb's "Sunny" is a low-key treat. The album's "Samba in Your Life" (with music by Van Eps and lyrics by Lamm) is presented here in a remixed version with contemporary synthesized rhythms.
At the time of the release of Lamm's 2003 album Subtlety and Passion, fans quickly and accurately proclaimed it the best Chicago album never recorded by the band (although its members did appear on it). Indeed, Subtlety and Passion had so much strong material that any of its tracks could have made an appearance on this retrospective. So, while fine tracks like "The Mystery of Moonlight," "I Could Tell You Secrets," and "Another Sunday" aren't here, Lamm has selected new remixes of "You're My Sunshine Everyday" and "It's a Groove, This Life," plus the original "You Never Know the Story." Chicago is also represented by a solo version of the classic "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is," in Lamm collaborator John Van Eps' sleek remake. Van Eps' production replaces the driving urgency of the original song with a cool, electronic pulse that may not be preferable to the original but is nonetheless a valid reinterpretation of a timeless song. The hard-hitting "Out of the Blue," co-written by Trent Gardner, also has a Chicago vibe (complete with a trombone part and background vocals by Jason Scheff) and serves as a tribute to the band's late guitarist, Terry Kath.
Lamm's empathetic side comes out on the smooth jazz-flecked "Send Rain," which Lamm reveals in his liner notes was inspired by the plight of struggling migrant workers, as well as on the touching "You Never Know the Story" (featuring smoky, late-night trumpet fills from Lee Loughnane). He and Chicago drummer Tris Imboden co-wrote "Everyday, It's Always Something" in the wake of 9-11, crafting the lament (which is not at all flippant, despite the title) around Imboden's drum loops. "Standing at Your Door" is beautifully sung with Gerry Beckley and the late Carl Wilson, recorded as the trio was beginning the Beckley-Lamm-Wilson album project.
The timely "Will People Ever Change?" is the closing track on Time Chill. Thankfully, Robert Lamm hasn't changed in the years since the founding of Chicago, as he continues to carry a torch for well-crafted pop and rock even as he explores new sonic avenues and contemporary textures. Time Chill, housed in a digipak, includes an eight-page booklet with Lamm's own track-by-track annotations. Discographical annotation is contained in the digipak, which will undoubtedly prove helpful for fans hearing these songs for the first time who will wish to seek out the albums from which they have been culled. The set has been remastered by Gavin Lurssen and Reuben Cohen, and makes for engaging listening on a Saturday in the park...or another Sunday...or a rainy day in New York City...in other words, anytime, or anywhere.