There are a couple different ways for a musician to grow old as a performer: squeeze into the same denim/leather/spandex garb of yesteryear and wiggle/scream/pout/stivver around in a doesnt-hurt-too-bad-as-long-as-my-truss-holds imitation of your former self or – use some of those years and miles to your advantage and let your style mature with you. (If confidence dont come with time, then you got a problem, my friend.)
Bill Champlin is a good example of the second approach and his newly-released No Place Left To Fall documents that fact. Champlin has been a player since the mid-60s when his Sons of Champlin fused San Francisco psychedelica with jazz-influenced horns and way-cool vocals (breaking ground for bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago). The Sons were acknowledged by their fellow freaks as dead-nuts-on musicians, willing to take chances, but never losing track of the song at hand. The original Sons disbanded in 1977 (reuniting in the late ’90s and making music off and on since) and Champlin went on to burrow up in the confines of the aforementioned Chicago in 1981, putting his shoulder to the pop grindstone and scoring a number of chart hits in the process.
Its interesting that the release of No Place Left To Fall coincides with Champlin calling it quits with Chicago after 28 years. For sure, there are a few moments of polished poppiness (layers and layers of Bill backing himself on vocals sound vaguely 80s-ish), but then there are the moments like the organ break on the album opener Total Control when Champlin just lets fly and makes your head snap around, saying, What was that? Whether it was the plan during the recording process or not and it doesnt matter – No Place Left To Fall comes across as a statement of independence on Champlins part the work of a guy getting back to just enjoying being himself. (Today, not yesterday.)
At times No Place Left To Fall sounds a bit like a slick Steely Dan; other moments lean toward the funkiness of some of Bill Paynes work with Little Feat. While hes at it, Champlin brings the whole family in: wife Tamara Champlin belts out a smoking vocal on Tuggin On Your Sleeve while son Will guests on piano and vocals on several cuts. And when Bill himself isnt busy on keyboards, he can play a pretty cool guitar. (Check put his fierce acoustic work on Lover Like That and his nasty electric solo on Angelina.)
Jams are held in reserve for now (theres one really nice segue from The Truth into the title track) its almost as if Champlin wanted to use the space on the disc to get these songs down therell be room to stretch em out later. All in all, No Place Left To Fall feels like the first step on Bill Champlins road back to truly being Bill Champlin. Time can only make it better.