26 East, Volume 2 supposedly marks former Styx vocalist and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung’s goodbye to the world of recorded music. This second part of what started as the end for this master musician with his 2020 release of 26 East, Volume 1, sees DeYoung collaborating again with fellow Chicagoan and founder of the band Survivor, Jim Peterik. The story is that DeYoung simply had so many songs written for the first volume that his record company suggested dividing these recordings into separate records. And the dozen songs here are all pretty strong.
Beginning with big upfront drums and plucky keys, DeYoung name-drops his musical influences on “Land Of The Living.” Lyrically from this one forward, he peppers in observations of his life. “26 East” was the address where DeYoung grew up in Roseland, on the far south side of Chicago. The Panozzo twins — John and Chuck — lived across the street. Together with DeYoung, they would go on to form the nucleus of Styx. It’s no wonder DeYoung is in a mostly reflective mood here.
DeYoung is one of those guys who can spin out a toe-tapping, sing-a-along pop-rock hit, and here he manages some deep diving into various styles. There’s the heavier stabs on guitar-riffing songs like “Land Of The Living,” and the lyrically trite, “The Last Guitar Hero” featuring Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello’s blistering pyrotechnics. And then there are the sweet ballads — which we certainly expect from the writer of “Don’t Let It End” and “Babe” — “Your Saving Grace,” “Proof Of Heaven,” and “Made For Each Other.” The addition of the Michael Manson Gospel Group on “Your Saving Grace” is a production masterstroke, making this one of the album’s standouts.
“The Isle Of Misanthrope” is by far the biggest stretch with what might be DeYoung’s best vocal aligned with the richest production. This song has a very Styx-like feel with its soft use of strings, layered harmonies, and big striking dramatic power chords. Given the man’s history with theater, “grand” moments and “sailing” theatrical pronouncements, it’s no surprise that the album’s “Grand Finale” is more than reminiscent of Styx’s “The Grand Illusion.” It makes for a rather unique way to call it a day. No one wants Dennis DeYoung to never release another album. But if he has to close the doors on the old Paradise Theatre with 26 East, Volume 2, it’s not such a bad way to go.
~ Ralph Greco, Jr.