It’s not Styx, but it’s as close as fans will get for now: Lead singer Lawrence Gowan is at work on his own long-awaited return to recording.
Gowan joined guitarists Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young in Styx 14 years ago, having released his most recent solo effort three years before. Since, Gowan has overseen a 25th anniversary remaster of his own Strange Animal album, but otherwise has stayed busy touring and recording with Styx — which issued a terrific new song last year, but otherwise has only entered the studio to re-record old favorites.
The band, rounded out by drummer Todd Sucherman and bassists Ricky Phillips and Chuck Panozzo, just kicked off another round of shows last night in Boise, Idaho. While they haven’t issued an original studio recording in nearly a decade, Styx has more than made up for it with a rigorous touring schedule. The current lineup, in place since 1999, has actually put on more live shows than all of Styx’s previous editions combined.
Gowan, meanwhile, brought his own recording pedigree when he replaced Dennis DeYoung. 1985’s Strange Animal memorably included bassist Tony Levin and drummer Jerry Marotta, of the early Peter Gabriel bands. Gowan followed hat up with Great Dirty World in 1987, which included co-founding Yes vocalist Jon Anderson on the single “Moonlight Desires.” 1990’s Lost Brotherhood found Gowan collaborating with Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, among others. The albums …but you can call me Larry and The Good Catches Up followed in 1993 and ’95, respectively.
Gowan now tells Rustyn Rose of Examiner.com that he’s about halfway through a new project under his own name. He was convinced to get back in the studio, Gowan says, by Shaw’s well-received 2011 bluegrass effort The Great Divide, which Gowan calls a “fantastic record.”
Side trips like that, Gowan says, bring new life to Styx.
“These little projects we do outside the band, in the brief little time we have off the road, they’re important,” Gowan tells Rose. “They help to inform what comes back to the band again and what makes Styx great. I mean Tommy — it’s amazing — he was a tremendous guitar player when he joined the band. But after doing that solo record, his guitar playing went to yet another level because he had to re-engage himself in a fresh discipline that taught him so much about guitar playing that he did not know.”
As for a new album of Styx material, Gowan suggested that the band will likely record and release single songs like 2011’s “Difference in the World” going forward — since that better fits their busy schedule.
Here’s a look at our recent thoughts on and Styx. Click through the links for complete reviews …
STYX – THE GRAND ILLUSION/ PIECES OF EIGHT LIVE DVD/Blu-ray (2012): At the moment of Styx’s earliest breakout successes, as it achieved these first- and second-ever triple platinum-selling albums, the band was already starting to go its separate ways. 1977’s Grand Illusion was the first to fully spotlight the trademark elements of both Dennis DeYoung and relative newcomer Tommy Shaw, and already you could see where Styx would eventually come to a fork in the proverbial road musically. Tracks like “Miss America” were brawny, six-string rockers, yet you also had the title track and the opening stanzas of “Come Sail Away,” Styx’s second Top 10 hit, which became showcases for DeYoung’s preening Broadway affectations. At the time, this seemed like the kind of creative tension that might keep the band working at a high level. In truth, the center could not hold.
TOMMY SHAW – THE GREAT DIVIDE (2011): Don’t come in looking for a pickin’-and-grinnin’ “Renegade,” or a hillbilly take on “Too Much Time on My Hands” — two of the more memorable sides he’s written and recorded with Styx, his rock and roll day job. No, The Great Divide, featuring 11 new songs that Shaw either wrote or co-wrote, finds him on guitar, mandolin and resonator guitar alongside a terrific group of rootsy talents. Shaw comes by all of this honestly, believe it or not. The Great Divide is no bored dilettante move. As a boy growing up in Montgomery, Ala., Shaw remembers sitting in the backseat of a 1958 Chevy listening to the legendary Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts from WSM in Nashville. And he brings that same sense of wonder and exuberance to the project.
ONE TRACK MIND: STYX, “DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD” (2011): There’s a world-weary melancholy, a hard-won realism, to Styx’s new song that didn’t exist in Tommy Shaw’s fun-rocking “Renegade” days, and that points the way out of the band’s more recent habit of backtracking. It’s not just the rest of Regeneration, Vols. I and II, which finds Styx rerecording some of its best-known tracks with next-generation singer Lawrence Gowan. In fact, since the departure in 1999 of Dennis DeYoung, Shaw and Co. have issued five concert recordings and — in the last four years alone — at least seven best-of packages. Styx’s most recent original long-player was Big Bang Theory from all the way back in 2005, leaving many to wonder if the group was spent creatively. Fast forward to “Difference in the World,” as Shaw, over a plaintive guitar shape, admits: “It’s hard to keep from giving up. It’s hard to make a difference in the world today.” But, through the course of a complex and involving musical soundtrack, Shaw rouses himself to try again — in a nice metaphor for the band itself.
SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST – STYX: A band suspended forever between the formalism of Dennis DeYoung’s Broadway pretensions and the harder edges of James Young and Tommy Shaw, Styx sounded different every time it came on the radio. Yet, critics insisted, somehow the same: Mediocre. They were, by turns, soft-prog keyboard-tweaking intellectuals, CroMagnon guitar shredders and dorky show-tune pompsters … though with very little circumstance. Every gesture, as Lester Bangs once wrote, is writ huge — to the point of flatulence. (DeYoung knows he’s not English, right?) That makes them easy to hate, or love, or whatever. They were, at once, everything … and thus, to many, nothing. Yet … how many times have we turned this stuff up? Here, we sort through it all (the adult-contemporary crap, the hair-sprayed arena rock, the robot thing) to uncover a few clues to Styx’s enduring fame — from ‘Equinox,’ ‘Crystal Ball,’ ‘Grand Illusion,’ ‘Paradise Theater’ and, yes, even ‘Kilroy Was Here.’
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Dates, cities and venues for Styx’s on-going tour:
Sat 8/25: Albany, OR, Oregon Amphitheatre
Sun 8/26: Palmer, AK, Alaska State Fair
Mon 8/27: Monroe, WA, Evergreen State Fair
Fri 8/31: Marshfield, WI, Central Wisconsin State Fair
Sat 9/1: New Lenox, IL, New Lenox Commons
Sun 9/2: Wauseon, OH, Fulton County Fair
Thu 9/6: Lincoln, CA, Thunder Valley Casino Resort
Fri 9/7: Madera, CA, Madera District Fair
Sat 9/8: Pomona, CA, LA County Fair
Sun 9/9: Saratoga, CA, Mountain Winery
Tue 9/11: Redding, CA, Cascade Theatre
Thu 9/13: Spokane, WA, Interstate Fair
Sat 9/15: Deadwood, SD, Deadwood Jam
Thu 10/4-6: Niagara Falls, ON, Avalon Theatre at Fallsview Casino
Thu 10/11: Sewell, NJ, TD Bank Arts Centre
Fri 10/12: Wabash, IN, Honeywell Center
Sun 10/14: Reading, PA, Sovereign Performing Arts Center
Fri 10/26: Harris, MI, Island Resort and Casino
Sat 10/27: Harris, MI, Island Resort and Casino
Thu 11/8: Nashville, TN, Ryman Auditorium
Fri 11/9: Biloxi, MS, Hard Rock Casino & Resort
Wed 11/14: Provo, UT, Covey Center for the Arts
Fri 11/16: Las Vegas, NV, The Pearl at Palms Casino Resort
Sat 11/17: Las Vegas, NV, The Pearl at Palms Casino Resort
Sun 11/18: Scottsdale, AZ, Talking Stick Resort