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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Styx

And The Contemporary Youth Orchestra-One With Everything CD

Review by Gary Hill

Recording an album with an orchestra has become almost a clichéd idea these days. Many discs done this way are pretty pathetic or at least trivialized and gimmicky. This album is one of the exceptions to that. Styx’ sound has never been better than on this album. The orchestra and choir add a whole new level and depth to the music and the band seem exceptionally inspired here. It’s also important to note that rather than record, Styx, in a laudable approach, did their album with a youth orchestra, allowing the spotlight to be shone on some talented young musicians. That is a classy move! There is a companion DVD, and I’d have to say that it is better than this CD for reasons to be addressed in a moment. This disc, though, is still strong. The things that I would chalk up as issues are fairly small and there aren’t many. First, they should have done this as a double disc to work in more of the music from the DVD. That one, though, is a bit of a mixed problem and blessing. While one of my favorite cuts from the video (Lorelei) doesn’t make this disc, they managed to keep all the trademark Dennis DeYoung songs off of the CD. Without Dennis’ voice those tracks seem to be a bit lacking (and that’s by no fault of these guys – they make a great effort, but his voice is so recognizable it’s glaring when it’s not there), so by leaving those off of this set they strengthen it in a way. The only other problem I have with this is the inclusion of the studio version of one track rather than the live one. I wouldn’t have as much an issue with that except that they leave it in its original position amidst the concert recordings. This interrupts the flow a bit. As I said, though, these are really fairly minor complaints and overall this is a great CD.

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Track by Track Review
Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
An orchestral fanfare leads this one off, and when the band kick in with this stomping hard rocker, it’s amazing how well orchestra and band mesh. This one is a killer and a great choice to open the disc.
One With Everything
This hard rocker swarms in with an enveloped texture, then gradually the group join to pull this one together as a smoking hard rocker. The orchestra is a bit less prominent on this one, seeming to sit in the backdrop until the key points where they can enter to add to drama. The choir does add a lot to the vocal presence and the orchestra takes near center stage on the progressive rock oriented instrumental segment. That part of the track takes on almost Emerson Lake and Palmer like tendencies at times. There is another neo-prog segment later that is also tinged with ELP elements. If I had to place this particular track in any one genre, it would be sitting pretty firmly in the progressive rock category. This is a good track, but not one of the standouts on the set.
It Don't Make Sene (You Can't Make Peace)
The first cut here from Styx’ awesome Big Bang Theory CD, this Willie Dixon political piece starts off with a great give and take jam between the band and the orchestra. This one is one of my favorites from that studio disc, and if anything this version is even stronger. The orchestra adds a lot of power and majesty to this number.
I Am The Walrus
Here we get another cut originally from that same CD. It’s Styx taking on the Beatles in this hard rocking, psychedelically tinged piece. This one is preformed quite well here, and the orchestra seems a natural fit considering the amount of use that the Beatles made of such instrumentation. The choir comes in handy on the “woo” segment. The orchestra comes to the fore during the short drop back in the middle of the song. The chaotic, swirling mass of psychedelic textures at the end is especially effective in this configuration. This scorcher is a strong number here, there and everywhere.
Just Be (Studio Version)
This is a powerful progressive rock dominated jam that is one part Styx and one part Pink Floyd. I really like the song, the only thing I don’t understand is why they included a studio version instead of the live one. Also, if they wanted to put the studio take on, perhaps it should have gone at the end (or beginning) of the disc as in this slot it sort of interrupts the flow of the performance. Ah, well, it’s a great song either way.
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
Back to the live performance, the orchestra kicks this one off in fine fashion. They build on it unaccompanied for over a minute. Then the band joins and we’re off on this familiar ‘70’s rocker in earnest. It’s another that really gains a lot from the additional orchestration.
Criminal Mind
This one is dramatic and very theatrical in texture. It’s another of the more progressive rock oriented pieces here. This is a powerful and very beautiful piece of music. It’s one of the sheer highlights of this set. It’s also another where the orchestra is used quite effectively. I’d put this one alongside the symphonic rock of any of the greats. This one alone is worth the ticket price here.
Everything, All The Time
Starting with a Genesis meets the Beatles kind of approach, this one kicks into metallic territory after the intro. It’s a hard rocking, fast paced jam that works reasonably well. I wouldn’t consider it one of the strongest pieces here, but it’s also far from weak.
Too Much Time On My Hands
Here we get another of Styx’ major hits. The orchestra brings a lot of depth and progressive rock sound to this one. It’s a great way to refresh an old favorite.
Crystal Ball
One of the band’s earliest radio tunes, this beautiful proggy ballad has always been a favorite of mine. The prog rock tendencies are even more pronounced in this particular rendition. This also turns into a metallic powerhouse with some serious guitar shredding later. The track is much more powerful (if that’s possible) than the original. It’s another standout piece.
Miss America
“Miss America” was always one of the harder rocking numbers from the Grand Illusion album. The orchestra takes the place of most of the keyboards on the introduction in a nice touch, expanding on the melodic ideas present there. This adds a depth and potency that it didn’t have before. When the scorching guitar line enters with the familiar riff the symphony serves to accentuate and intensify the moods and tones. This is another killer and stands out above most of the material on this powerful disc. The choir on the chorus also adds a lot. The instrumental break gets a very Emerson Lake and Palmer like treatment here, and I don’t think the guitar solo has ever sounded better.
Boat On The River
Here they present one of their ballads. I have to admit; I always felt this track was a bit schmaltzy as originally presented. The addition of the orchestration, though, brings a whole new element to the piece. I really like it as it is here.
Renegade
Another of Styx’ huge hits, this one takes a more contemplative approach on the introduction. This is another that has worked well for me from the start, and if anything it’s even more potent in this format. It makes for a great closer to the disc and a scorching rendition. This one has a cool sing-along (along with introductions – or shout outs, depending on how you look at it – to many of the people involved) in the midst of the track.
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