CD Review of Full Circle by California Transit Authority (CTA)

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See their website! California Transit Authority (CTA):
Full Circle
starstarstarno starno star Label: Street Sense Records
Released: 2007

Danny Seraphine was a founding member of, and the original drummer in, Chicago. He held that chair from 1967 – 1990. After being dismissed from the band, Seraphine gave up music. At the urging of friend and Emmy winning keyboardist Peter Fish, Seraphine went back behind the kit after a 17-year layoff. Add accomplished guitar slinger Marc Bonilla, Tower of Power vocalist Larry Braggs, bassist Mick Mahan and keyboardist Edward Roth, and the California Transit Authority was born. My overall criticism of the work is that Seraphine and his mates are too focused on his past. The name of the current project is a play on the old one. The self titled Chicago Transit Authority record was released in 1969. The name was shortened to Chicago for the second release. On Full Circle, California Transit Authority covers eight Chicago songs. The four better known Chicago tracks are not up to par with the better known originals. They re-work “Make Me Smile” as an instrumental, “Colour My World” gets a guitar workout, Steve Winwood’s “I’m a Man” gets the keyboards and percussion jumping with guest appearances from Sheila E. and Keith Emerson, and “25 or 6 to 4” is a live bonus track. I can see maybe one cover of a hit, but four hits and four other Chicago tunes on one record? They should just go get Peter Cetera and call the project ‘Suburb of Chicago.’ The CTA versions of the hits are different with new wrinkles, but not necessarily in the same class as the originals. Braggs’ voice is a soulful one, and easy to enjoy when not singing songs imprinted in the collective memory. When these songs are playing, you instantly think of the original performances and compare them. Even though he might be a superior singer, the older versions and their vocals are classic and untouchable. During certain measures, these four particular songs sound like the work of a really good wedding band. These musicians are far too talented to sound like a wedding band.

“Introduction” is a song that really demonstrates the potential and power of the band. It has elements of jazz, blues, progressive rock and pop. This Terry Kath composition is the best cut on the album. Bonilla gets to show off and he sounds fluid and natural with nothing forced. It’s a Chicago song, but not one that is easily recalled. The band shines on this because the comparison meter is on low. The most pop-oriented track is “Several Thousand,” which features the guest vocals of Wes Quave, who channels Stevie Wonder. It is absolutely pleasant, catchy and a song you end up humming over and over. It is also the only original track penned for the record. The three non-Chicago tracks are covers of songs written by Greg Allman (for the Allman brothers), Chuck Mangione (for Cannonball Adderley) and a Marc Bonilla track.

The two musicians who shine the most happen to be the two producers (Seraphine and Bonilla). Seraphine’s time keeping is crisp and driving, while Bonilla shows great restraint, turning up the noodling when necessary but delivering the right amount of feel. The reworking of Bonilla’s “Antonio’s Love Jungle” is a perfect example. Seraphine’s drums are busy, providing the perfect complement to Bonilla’s fretwork.

The problem lies in the covers of the Chicago hits. Subtract three of those tracks and add another original or another re-working of a Cannonball Adderley song like “Something Different” and you could easily add some more stars to the rating. As it stands, it’s a solid three stars.

~R. David Smola