Stone of Sisyphus is the great-lost Chicago album, at least till now with its release via Rhino. Recorded in 1993 in the wake of a series of middle-of –the road commercial successes, and originally intended as Chicago XXII, the album was conceived by the band and its producer Peter Wolf (once a Zappa sideman) as a return to the early approach the band utilized in creating original material arranged with room for improvisation.
Anyone who remembers the invigorating sound of the original Chicago will find Stone of Sisyphus wholly comparable, if perhaps not its complete equal. The somewhat dated vestiges of the sounds of the early Nineties remain, but the electronic keyboards are definitely relegated to background accoutrements behind the vigorously pumping horns of Wally Parazider, Lee Loughnane and James Pankow on "Mah-Jong."
The crucial missing element in the restoration of the Chicago sound becomes all too apparent by the time "Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed" appears. Late guitarist Terry Kath acted as the catalyst for Chicago’s most powerful music and a more aggressive presence than the mere rhythm playing of Dawayne Bailey would offset this somewhat forced concession to rap.
Still, the rhythm section is appropriately lean, driving the band hard as drummer Tris Imboden locks in with bassist Jason Scheff (son of Jerry, whose presence in The King’s band is referenced in “Bigger Than Elvis”). Warner Bros’ ultimate refusal to release Stone of Sisyphus remains mysterious, however, as you hear the balladry of "Let’s Take A Lifetime" or the mid-tempo original "Here with Me (A Candle For the Dark)": this is essentially the style and approach that brought the band to the middle of the road in the years prior to the Stone of Sisyphus sessions.
Four bonus tracks that bring this cd to full length illustrate the wealth of ideas at work within the band that was Chicago at this point. Both of Bill DeYoung’s essays in the cd booklet, reaffirm the charged atmosphere in the studio, yet still leave unresolved the absence of guitarist Bailey’s "Get On This” in the reordering of tracks from previously available twelve-cut sequencings (there are a plethora of bootlegs in circulation).
In the end, thought, that omission may just be one more point of trivia rendered wholly moot by the exalting sound of the horns introducing the title song. And as the lyrics directly reference the predicament in which Chicago found themselves after years of commercial compromise, the greatest irony of all emerges: Stone of Sisyphus has finally found its authorized release on what is now a partner of the very label that refused the album to begin with.