Born For This Moment – Out Now!

Chicago Releases their 38th album, “Born For This Moment” – Now available on CD, digital or listen on your favorite streaming service HERE. Coming on vinyl October 21st.

It’s truly rare for a band to forge a musical legacy so indelibly ingrained into the public’s consciousness that their name alone is synonymous with the sounds they create. Chicago is one such band. Their unique blend of personally relatable songwriting based on real life experiences, multilayered harmonic vocalizations, and world-class brass arrangements has fostered a singular style of songcraft that has been electrifying audiences across the globe for over six decades and counting. To that end, Chicago’s forthcoming 38th album, Born for This Moment — set for release on July 15, 2022, via BMG — serves to enhance the band’s hallowed recorded heritage to the nth degree.

Born for This Moment captures the true heart of Chicago at their full creative capacity. From the undeniable swing of the lead single “If This Is Goodbye” to the unbreakable bonds of “For the Love” to the deeply personal storytelling of “Safe Harbours,” the patriarchal aspirations of “Make a Man Outta Me,” the romantic reveries of “If This Isn’t Love,” and the sultry flare of “Firecracker,” it’s quite clear the collective force of nature that is Chicago is indeed alive and well and flourishing better than ever, right here in the first quarter of the 21st Century. Over the entire course of 14 vibrant new songs, Born for This Moment encapsulates the scope and breadth of all the compositional and performance-propelled strengths at the ready in Chicago’s seemingly endless arsenal of musical acumen. (And not to worry, traditional Chicago album-numbering fans — the alternate XXXVIII designation is in full view on Moment’s spine.)

Chicago fans already appreciate the impact lead vocalist and guitarist Neil Donell has had on the band’s music upon his joining the fold fulltime in 2018. A Canadian-born singer with a truly remarkable four-octave vocal range, Donell brought decades of in-studio and live performance experience to the table, instantly enhancing the Chicago sound in numerous ways. “I’m truly grateful the guys allowed me some license to do my own thing on the new album because I’ve had so much experience in the studio already,” Donell observes. “During the recording process — which we mostly had to do remotely — we got to know each other’s musical sensibilities, and how well we meshed together. There was a great deal of trust and common creativity between everybody. It’s a level of musicality that’s quite rare.”

Confirms Lamm, “We loved Neil immediately upon his coming into the band. He showed us how he had great respect for our body of work, and he was willing to take a chance to jump right in and go forward with it. Just the fact that he is a real person with real thoughts and is someone who has the ability and a willingness to share his music, his feelings, and his desires with us — that kind of guy, added into Chicago, is a huge, huge improvement to the band.” Concurs original bandmember, trombonist, horn arranger, and composer James Pankow, “Not only is Neil a technically gifted performer, he is an amazing, multi-range singer. Even though he sings lead tenor vocals in the band, I consider him to be a baritone. His range allows him to go all the way from the top lead tenor down to the bed baritone. Without a doubt, he is a big asset to the band.”

The new album’s aforementioned lead single “If This Is Goodbye,” which has already become an integral, fan-favorite entry on the Chicago setlist, shows the band’s multifaceted chops remain on full display. “I call Neil the machine,” Pankow says. “He did 22 vocal overdubs on that song and stacked all the vocals himself — and he did it perfectly. When we started doing ‘Goodbye’ live, we had to assign certain vocal parts of it to other individual singers in the band.” 

Excellent taste is a long-ingrained Chicago hallmark. As original bandmember, trumpeter, flugelhornist, and songwriter Lee Loughnane puts it, “One of the big reasons this album works so well is that when you put it on and play it, you hear something you’re not quite expecting to hear — and it immediately pulls you in musically and emotionally.”

These deep-rooted connection points aren’t exactly the easiest things to pull off, but Chicago had a master plan in mind during the Moment recording sessions. “Most of the tracking and lead vocals for this album were done remotely, but we did the horns live in Lee’s studio in Arizona,” reports Pankow. “You can’t phone-in wind instruments. We have to be performing all of that together, because there are nuances in lips and lungs that have to be performed simultaneously. The way I approach our section is as a melodic lead voice, a main character in the song. It’s a melodic signature that identifies what we do. We become another lead vocal, and we thread in and around what the vocals are doing. It’s a seamless approach.”

The unified interweaving of songwriting and arranging in Chicago music is no accident. As Pankow explains, “Historically, I’m the arranging chair in the band, and we have a signature that we have honed over the last 55 years. And when we play together, it’s the old euphemism — it’s a ‘one set of lungs’ horn section. We phrase together, we breathe together. We attack together, we release together. That’s the personality signature of the brass section.” Loughnane readily validates Pankow’s position. “That’s exactly how we do it,” he says. “We just start playing, and then we do it all together until we get to the end of the chart.”

Speaking of “Beginnings,” discerning listeners will instantly notice the musical nod to the band’s classic 1969 hit song of the same name — still a perennial Chicago setlist favorite, and with good reason — a nod that occurs at the literal outset of “Our New York Time,” a joyous track courtesy of our man Lamm. “Initially, I had a little trepidation about it because I always want to hear something new,” acknowledges Lamm, “but the guys felt really positive about it, so I was cool with it.” Adds Donell, “To me, it’s quintessentially Chicago — and, if I’m being honest, it’s probably my favorite cut on the record.” 

Lamm truly relished co-writing songs like “Our New York Time,” in addition to the galvanizing album-opening title track and the kinetically emboldened “Crazy Idea,” with Jim Peterik (Survivor, The Ides of March). Another Lamm song, “For the Love,” this time co-written with Bruce Gaitsch, hits home in many profoundly intrinsic ways, according to Donell. “That song really, really connected with me emotionally. I think it’s a real gemstone on the record,” he declares. Adds Lamm, “My wife, who’s not a musician — she’s an artist — told me that’s her favorite song on the record. It shocked me when she said, ‘Now I know you’re a songwriter.’ It’s a very deep song.” Continues Donell, “Sometimes, when you write songs like that, you don’t understand how it’s going to affect people. But when I heard Robert’s vocals on ‘For the Love,’ it really got to me. Just the humanity in his performance alone is perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the song.” 

Meanwhile, the soul-touching “Safe Harbours” — international spelling intentional, to directly reflect Donell’s proud, longstanding Canadian heritage — portends great things ahead for Donell becoming a fine addition to the vaunted Chicago songwriting corps moving forward. “As it turns out, not only is Neil a brilliant musician, but he’s a damn good songwriter too,” agrees Lamm, “and I want to hear more of that from him.” For his part, Donell is thankful for the opportunity to contribute in such a personal way to the band’s long and storied canon. “That song is essentially about wishing for a better life for your children than you have, with less hardship and less heartache,” he explains. “I was able to bring in four cellists to that session in order to give the song a lot of volume, and a lot more depth. It was a very demanding and lengthy process to get the mix of this track just right, but I think it came out wonderfully. I’m very pleased, proud, and grateful to have this song on the record.”

The sentiments of “Safe Harbours” dovetail quite nicely with the heartfelt James Pankow/Greg O’Conner composition “Make a Man Outta Me,” which was written as a love song expressing all the hopes and dreams Pankow envisions for his newborn son. “This song has a light, lilting, happy-man approach to the arrangement,” he reveals. “And that’s what engendered the intimate nature of the song, musically. It’s the synergy of the expression of the vocals being energized by the nature of the track. I personally get inspired by a musical feeling, whether it’s chordal or rhythmic, and that inspires the vocal approach. I think of an idea, and I don’t flesh out the words describing that feeling until I flesh out the music that captures that feeling — and then I lyricize it.”

A similar touchstone of song-and-subject universality carries right on through with the Lee Loughnane/John Durrill offering “If This Isn’t Love,” a track that outlines the actual manifestation of an ideal we all search for as delineated sonically in a flawless fusion of what’s being said with what’s being played. “The brass is such a part of it, and I had those brass parts weaving in and out of what the vocal was saying,” clarifies Loughnane. “For me, out of all the loves I’ve had in my lifetime, this was the most perfect love I’ve experienced. The germ of that idea is, this is something everyone is looking for, but not many of us achieve. It was really fun putting it all together.”

As the band enter their 55th year together full throttle, the 14 songs found on Born for This Moment only add to the aural palette that continues to define the Chicago legacy. “When people hear this record, it might be surprising to them on a lot of levels,” assesses Donell. “Things have evolved in Chicago because of all the changes in the lineup over the years, but the heart and soul of the band is still Robert’s voice and his songwriting, along with Jimmy and Lee’s arranging. That is all still the heart and the soul of the band, and I’m happy to say Chicago is intact, strong, and vibrant. Some of the other elements and other colors might have changed a little bit, but it’s still because of what Jimmy, Lee, and Robert do that continues to define the great Chicago sound. And to me, Chicago music is timeless music.”

Indeed, Chicago music is both timeless and timely, at the same time. “Yes, I promise we’ll name the next album properly as Chicago XXXIX,” Lamm says with a hearty laugh, before switching gears to look ahead at what lies beyond. “I hope that, 55 years from now, listeners will actually feel something about our music and our lyrics. I mean, we’re all human. We all go through some variation of the same pain and joy at some point in our lives, and there’s a commonality to that. I hope listeners in the future will actually get all those feelings while listening to our music.”

Loughnane feels the same way. “I’m hoping our music will still hold up in some form to move listeners in the future emotionally, just the way it’s been for the first 55 years,” he theorizes. “The songs continue to hold together, and the reason has to do with what they do both emotionally and musically. That doesn’t go away. You play our music for somebody else, and they’ll have some sort of reaction to it.”

Concludes Pankow, “Well, if we’ve been around 55 years, that’s a pretty good indication we’re going to be around another 55. There are so many people of so many ages who have made Chicago music the soundtracks of their lives — and I don’t see why, in any way, that would stop. As an artist, when you create music that you have every indication will outlive you, that is the ultimate gift.” 

Without a doubt, Chicago’s enduring musical gift is truly Born for This Moment — and for every enjoyable listening moment that follows. In short, we are all Chicago, and Chicago is us. All you gotta do is listen, because Chicago music is part of a shared, permanent connection that’s only gonna keep (to borrow a song title) “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day.”

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