It’s been 45 years since the golden voice of a “kid from Chicago” hit the Top 10 with the song “Lady” and propelled the band Styx into the worldwide spotlight. Now, at age 73, crooner Dennis DeYoung shows no signs of slowing down with the release of his new solo CD entitled 26 East: Volume 1. The songs are refreshingly original and yet instantly familiar while the lyrics are peppered with some very poignant statements about the world today and the roles we each play.
There is some expectation for great songwriting from the man who penned such top 10 hits as “Mr. Roboto”, “Show Me The Way”, “Come Sail Away”, and reached Number 1 with the definitive rock ballad “Babe.” The odds doubled when DeYoung decided to collaborate with another Number 1 songwriter: Jim Peterik, who’s known for chart-topping successes from “Vehicle” (#2 for Ides of March), “Caught Up In You” (#10 for 38 Special), and the rock anthem “Eye of the Tiger,” a number 1 hit for his former band Survivor. Although past success is no guarantee of future results, the DeYoung/Peterik team delivered five solid tracks that are textbook for well crafted songs. “We collaborated from the get go,” said DeYoung, “happily and seamlessly and at this time we have written nine songs together of which five will be on Volume 1. Just two Chicago guys doing what they do best, making music and having a laugh.”
Out of the gate, 26 East begins with “East of Midnight,” a big production of melodic rock with the signature stacked harmonies, soaring synthesizers balanced with crunchy guitars, and that strong voice that keeps classic rock radio stations in business. There’s a hint of “Grand Illusion” here and a nod to “I’m OK”, but it’s definitely not a regurgitation of the past. The song is a reminiscent journey back in time to the humble beginnings of DeYoung’s music career when the nucleus of Styx began with him and the Panozzo twins, Chuck and John. The album’s title “26 East” was the address where DeYoung grew up in Roseland on the far south side of Chicago, and the cover artwork features three locomotives traveling through space, representing the original members leaving Chicago on their journey to the stars.
There are two other guests on this album that add to allure. First is Julian Lennon, whose harmonies seamlessly blend with DeYoung’s on their collaboration “To The Good Old Days.” DeYoung indicated that he hadn’t met Julian before recording this song, but their words seem so sincere as they sing about raising a glass to toast all of the memories of their past together and all the good and bad times that they’ve survived.
The second guest is guitarist/vocalist August Zadra, who may only be mentioned briefly in the liner notes, but presumably contributed significantly to the “band” sound of the record. Zadra is a dynamic force in the Dennis DeYoung live show where he takes on the lead and harmony vocals originally voiced by Tommy Shaw. His work shines on the rocker “Damn That Dream” that talks about the reality of a dream-come-true turning into a charade that leaves you “lost and torn apart.”
DeYoung’s music is diverse and culled from the “boom child” musical inspirations from his youth through to the songs of his modern contemporaries. The track “You My Love” feels like an homage to the love ballads of the 1950’s — so much so that you might believe that it is a cover of a song that might have been earmarked for the Grease soundtrack. Even the vocal styling is on point for this period of music.
From the Styx classic “Suite Madame Blue” to “Turn Off The CNN” from his last solo record, One Hundred Years From Now, DeYoung has never shied from making political points with his lyrics. 26 East boasts a trilogy of politically themed songs that starts with the campy “With All Due Respect.” It’s definitely a fun song about the incompetence of our bi-partisan government, but the chorus sports the childish jabs, “With all due respect, you are an asshole” and “With all due respect, plug up your pie holes” that are hard to take seriously. The following song, “A Kingdom Ablaze,” is a haunting melody with lyrics that foretell an end to our nation if we don’t correct our ways. The music is reminiscent of “Castle Walls” from the Grand Illusion album laced with a subtle shuffle, ominous Gregorian chants, and the foreboding message, “When our greed becomes our need, all will bleed.” “The Promise of This Land” is the third song in the trilogy that comes later in the track list. It is a song of hope, and DeYoung’s theatrical spirit shines as brightly on this song as it did on the wonderful collection of show tunes from his 1994 release, 10 On Broadway. This song is full of references to our founding fathers and the dreams they had for this newly launched nation.
There are certain formulas for writing timeless “hit” songs and DeYoung and Peterik have their own recipes. The standout songs that have potential for chart topping success are “Run For The Roses” and “Unbroken.” Both start softly with the mood of a minor key and then soar to dramatic heights in major keys and layered harmonies spreading a positive message. Each song would be comfortable in any of the past five decades. Though the odds are stacked against DeYoung for chart success in the current climate of much younger artists, you never know when he might catch lightning in the bottle again (like the time “Show Me The Way” was spurred on as an anthem during Desert Storm). Who would have expected his recent rendition of “The Best of Times,” sung at his home during the COVID-19 pandemic, would go viral (no pun intended) and reach over a million views.
Speaking of “The Best of Times,” 26 East wraps up with yet another reprise of the “A.D. 1928”/”A.D. 1958” from the end of the Paradise Theater album. This time it is called “A.D. 2020” and features DeYoung playing an accordion, the instrument that got it all started for him. If you have been a fan of the music of Dennis DeYoung throughout the years, this short bookend to the album will tug at the heart strings as he seems to accept the notion that his music will last long beyond his years. He has shared his soul here in sonic form for you to listen to, relate to, and most importantly, to let it move you.
And so my friends I’ll say goodbye
For time has claimed its prize
But the music never dies
Just listen and close your eyes
And welcome to paradise
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26 East: Volume 1 Track List
- East of Midnight (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik, John R. Melnick)
- With All Due Respect (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
- A Kingdom Ablaze (Dennis DeYoung)
- You My Love (Dennis DeYoung)
- Run For The Roses (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
- Damn That Dream (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
- Unbroken (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
- The Promise of This Land (Dennis DeYoung)
- To The Good Old Days (Dennis DeYoung, Julian Lennon)
- A.D. 2020 (Dennis DeYoung)
26 East: Volume 1 Line-Up
- Jim Peterik: Guitar, Bass, Keyboard, Vocals and Vuvuzela
- August Zadra: Electric Guitars, vocals
- Jimmy Leahey: Acoustic and electric guitars
- Craig Carter: Bass, vocals and invocations
- Mighty Mike Morales: Drums and all day sound checker
- John Blasucci: Keyboard’s
- Mike Aquino: Electric Guitars
- Kevin Chalfant: backing vocals
- Matthew DeYoung: Drums on “To The Good Old Days”
- Ed Breckenfeld: Drums on “Unbroken”
- Zoe and Austin Orchard for Ring Around The Rosie
- The Chicago Children’s Choir and conductor Josephine Lee
- Dennis DeYoung: Keyboards, fake drums, fake bass, fake news and some vocals. Oh and Vuvuzela
Mastered by Dave Collins, DaveCollins Mastering. L.A.