Black Lodge [Release Date 15.05.20]

In that genre of the softest and smoothest AOR given the shorthand ‘West coast’, CWF are something of a superstar collaboration. Former Chicago singer and keyboard player Bill Champlin and Joseph Williams, singer with Toto both currently and during their most westcoastish ‘Fahrenheit’ phase, are both household names but Swedish guitarist Peter Friedstedt has also worked with some of the biggest names in the genre for some years.

This belated follow up to a 2015 debut opens in promisingly uptempo fashion in ‘Runaway Dancer’, a little like contemporary  devotees of the genre like Work of Art. ‘10 Miles’ is more sedate but its class reveals itself as US placenames  like El Paso and Baton Rouge are name checked evocatively.

A third voice is added to the mix during ‘All the Love in the World’ and it’s none other than Michael McDonald! While the song is a little too far in ‘yacht rock ‘ territory for my own tastes,  it’s quite a coup to add to the star studded roster.

Perhaps controversially, among the new songs there is also a live version of one of Chicago’s US No 1’s sung by Bill in ‘ Look Away’ –devoid of some of the eighties bombast and with his gritty voice sounding even more lived in, it’s a worthwhile addition on balance.

While the vocals generally intertwine effectively, on ‘Amanda’s Disguise’ there are moments where they become rather cluttered, while ‘Between the Lines’ and ‘Sometimes You Win’ are a little on the bland side.

 ‘All That I Want’ begins in similar fashion but explodes into life with a banked chorus that sounds very Toto-esque and Peter’s most out and out rocking solo of the album, while ‘Restless Love’ has a more folky, acoustic feel.

The penultimate song ‘Price of Love’ is rather out of kilter with the vibe of the rest of the album –not only is it notably rockier, but Bill’s wife Tamara sings it, in a very Grace Slick-like fashion. It was also tantalisingly familiar as it was one she co-wrote for Baton Rouge’s 1991 ‘Lights Out on the Playground’ album.

This is one of those albums that requires a bit of persistence as at first listen I found it rather bland, but stick with it as quality oozes from every pore of its immaculate arrangements, making it perfect for those mellow lockdown nights.  ****

Review by Andy Nathan

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