26 East, Volume 2 supposedly marks the departure of former Styx singer and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung from the world of phonograms. This second part of what began for this master musician with his 2020 release of as the end 26 East, Volume 1, sees DeYoung working again with his fellow Chicago countryman and founder of the band Survivor, Jim Peterik. The story is that DeYoung had simply written so many songs for the first band that his record company suggested splitting those recordings into separate records. And the dozen of songs here are all pretty strong.
Starting with big drums and bold keys, DeYoung drops his musical influences on “Land Of The Living”. From this point onwards, he spices up observations of his life. “26 East” was the address where DeYoung grew up in Roseland in the far south of Chicago. The Panozzo twins – John and Chuck – lived across the street. Together with DeYoung, they formed the core of Styx. No wonder that DeYoung is mostly pensive here.
DeYoung is one of those who can pull off a pop rock hit to sing along to, and this is where he manages to delve deep into different styles. There are the heavier stitches on guitar riff songs like “Land Of The Living” and the lyrically banal “The Last Guitar Hero” with the glowing pyrotechnics of Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello. And then there are the sweet ballads – which we certainly expect from the authors 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 to “Your Saving Grace” is a masterpiece of production and makes this album one of the standout elements of the album.
“The Isle Of Misanthrope” is by far the largest track with perhaps DeYoung’s best vocals, matched to the richest production. This song has a very Styx-like feel to it with its gentle use of strings, layered harmonies, and big, dramatic power chords. Given the story of the man with theater, “big” moments and “sailing” theater announcements, it’s no surprise that the album’s “Grand Finale” is more reminiscent than Styx’s “The Grand Illusion”. It’s a pretty unique way of calling it a day. Nobody wants Dennis DeYoung never to release an album again. But if he has to close the doors to the old Paradise Theater too 26 East, Volume 2, it’s not that bad a way.
~ Ralph Greco, Jr.