Kansas - Song For America (Kirshner) 1975
1. "Down The Road"
"Song for America" is essential
listening, especially for those who are into modern prog-metal and rock. With
"Song for America" the band successfully tied together their hard rock roots with
a more epic approach, that would become their calling card for years to come.
Two of the album's shorter tracks, album opener "Down The Road" and "Lonely Street"
display a hard rocking dose of bluesy bar-band boogie. Great guitar work and a
bit of a Southern flavor with the fiddle mixed in. "The Devil Game" is a short
track as well, but is a bit more complex than the two aforementioned song. This
song features some odd time signatures and some very cool lyrics. The remaining
three tracks are all epic length and all written by guitarist, keyboardist, songwriter
Kerry Livgren. The 10-minute title track pays homage to Livgren's homeland and
combines complex time signatures with some beautiful songwriting. "Incommurdo"
was actually written in the early 70's but was only ever recorded in demo form
until this album. I also believe this is one of the longest songs Kansas has ever
recorded. Livgren's cranks out some dynamic guitar work and keyboard orchestrations,
together with Steve Walsh's passionate vocals combines for one extraordinary track.
Kansas were a unique breed. "Song For America" was the first in a long line of
brilliant and successful albums from the classic 70's line-up and one of their
finest albums to date.
2. "Song For America" (9:59)
3. "Lamplight Symphony" (8:11)
4. "Lonely Street" (5:43)
5. "The Devil Game" (5:03)
6. "Incomudro (Hymn To The Atman)" (12:12)
Kansas - Leftoverture (Kirshner) 1976
1. Carry On Wayward Son (5:22)
2. The Wall (4:49)
3. What's on my Mind (3:28)
4. Miracles out of Nowhere (6:27)
5. Opus Insert (4:27)
6. Questions of my Childhood (3:36)
7. Cheyenne Anthem (6:52)
8. Magnum Opus (8:27)
a. Father Padilla Meets the Perfect Gnat
b. Howling at the Moon
c. Man Overboard
d. Industry on Parade
e. Release the Beavers
f. Gnat Attack
"Leftoverture" was my introduction to Kansas back in 1976. I was only in grade school when this was release, but had gotten into music and collecting vinyl at an early age. I was already fans of bands like Kiss and Ted Nugent. It didn't take me long to discover the prog-rock bands such as Genesis, Yes and Kansas. It was actually the song "Carry On My Wayward Son" that caught my attention. At the time I had mistaken the song for a Styx song but was quickly corrected by a friends older teenage brother.
"Leftoverture" is one of Kansas' best known albums, mostly for the signature song "Carry On Wayward Son." The album's opening track is certainly one of the band's most well known and respected songs (along with "Dust in the Wind"). The song is brilliantly composed and is undeniably catchy. The song is also fairly heavy for Kansas, being one of their harder rocking songs. The album is book ended by two of my favorite Kansas songs, "Carry On" being at one end and the epic and majestic "Magnum Opus" being at the other end. The song weaves a musical tapestry that is deeply textured by the mixture of violins, organ, guitars and a lustrous rhythm section. "Miracles Out of Nowhere" is a grandiose track that has a relatively complex composition and successfully combines the band's signature keyboards, guitars and keyboards. The song really showcases the band excellent musicianship.
One other aspect of Kansas that I have always respected is how they purposely tried to incorporate something meaningful in their lyrics. For the most part, the lyrics are reflective, self-searching and seem to explore some thoughtful spiritual questions. This is especially true of the songs penned by guitarist Kerry Livgren's
In short, "Leftoverture" is an excellent progressive rock album with superb musicianship and just enough of an AOR touch to make the music accessible.
"Carry On Wayward Son" has been covered by Yngwie
Malmsteen, Stryper, Rachel, Rachel and Dream Theater (as part of a medley on "A Change of Seasons").
Kansas - Point of Know Return (Epic/Legacy) 1977
1. Point of Know Return (3:11)
2. Paradox (3:49)
3. The spider (2:08)
4. Portrait (He Knew) (4:32)
5. Closet Chronicles (6:30)
6. Lightning Hand (4:21)
7. Dust in the Wind (3:26)
8. Sparks of the Tempest (4:15)
9. Nobody's Home (4:37)
10. Hopelessly Human (7:10)
11. Sparks Of The Tempest [live] (5:18)
12. Portrait (He Knew) [remix] (4:50)
Kansas had always been a band that straddled a fence between European prog-rock and American hard rock. They had an epic, grandiose style that was met with catchy choruses and hooky song writing. They had achieved in a level of perfection "Leftoverture" a year earlier and even saw a degree of success with "Carry On My Wayward Son" being a hit for the band. However, with "Point of Know Return" their popularity exploded and they reached a new plateau of creativity. The popularity was mostly due to the acoustic ballad "Dust in the Wind" becoming a Top 10 single. It was a radio friendly single written by Kerry Livgren's that was vastly different from the band's more progressive and epic numbers. The song is mostly build around an acoustic guitar riff but also features a beautiful violin solo. However, despite the more stripped down approach of the song, it somehow just works with the rest of the album. The title track also became a hit for the band, though this song featured the band's characteristic sounds including those memorable violins and sparkling keyboards. This particular song is perhaps one of their most memorable and has become an ageless rock and roll classic. "Portrait (He Knew)" was released as a single as well, though it didn't fare quite as well as the other two. As such, many progressive rock fans see this as a turning point in the Kansas catalog when the band started to become more AOR/radio-friendly. However, there is still some fantastic progressive rock present such as the epic "Hopelessly Human", the truly stunning and technical "Closet Chronicles" and the short "The Spider", a keyboard extravaganza that reminds me of Yes. That blending of hook and technique is brought together in absolute perfection on "Point of Know Return". Though many prog-rock fans will disagree, I think that "Point of Know Return" is an absolute masterpiece.
Kansas - Two For the Show (Kirshner) 1978
1. "Song for America"
2. "Point of Know Return" (3:07)
3. "Paradox" (4:09)
4. "Icarus--Borne on the Wings of Steel" (5:58)
5. "Portrait (He Knew)" (5:19)
6. "Carry on Wayward Son" (4:38)
7. "Journey from Mariabronn" (8:55)
8. "Dust in the Wind" [Acoustic Guitar Solo] (6:19)
9. "Lonely Wind (Piano Solo)" (4:29)
10. "Mysteries and Mayhem" (4:01)
11. "Excerpt from Lamplight Symphony" (2:39)
12. "The Wall" (4:54)
13. "Magnum Opus" (11:18)
The 1970's had so many
killer live albums. The live atmosphere really added something to band's who
were otherwise not very heavy. That is certainly the case with Kansas' "Two
For the Show." This is a classic album in every sense of the word. Not
only does the band jam, but they really did do a fine job of selecting some
of their best material. I am not sure how much studio overdubs were done on
this disc, if any, but the sound quality is quite good. I guess I just really
like that live, raw sound over the polished studio sound.
Kansas - Audio-Visions (Epic) 1980
1. Relentless (4:55)
2. Anything for You (3:56)
3. Hold On (3:45)
4. Loner (2:26)
5. Curtain of Iron (6:08)
6. Got to Rock On (3:19)
7. Don't Open Your eyes (4:03)
8. No One Together (6:54)
9. No Room for a Stranger (2:55)
10. Back Door (4:20)
The slick airbrushed cover art, which looks like it could have been used for a Journey album, is a tell tale sign of what to expect here. The band drive towards a radio-friendly AOR sound here, while still retaining some of their signature sound. The songs are less progressive and about half the songs clock in around the four minute mark. So the overall sound is sort of Kansas meets Journey meets REO Speedwagon and Foreigner-style radio rock. The opening track "Relentless" easily could have been a hit single for the band, but for some reason was not. The song features Phil Ehart’s machine-gun drum beat accented by Steve Walsh’s powerful voice and some nice guitar licks. The mostly acoustic based "Hold On" was the first single from the album and managed to crack the Billboard Top 40 list for a brief period late in 1980. It's actually a fantastic song, even if it is more AOR than prog. "Got to Rock On" was the other single from the album written by Steve Walsh. The song cracked the Top-100 in early '81, but dropped off rather quickly. "Loner" is an upbeat rocker and the shortest song the band had recorded up to this point. Frankly, I find all these tracks to be quite enjoyable. However, these songs are a far cry from the signature progressive rock that most fans of the band were use to.
"Curtain Of Iron" is the exception to the rule. This song is more progressive and dynamic and features a smokin' guitar solo, those airy violins, some heavy riffs and lighter moments. This song sounds like classic Kansas to me. The lyrics written by Kerry Livgren, who was now a very brazen Christian, focuses on the sad plight of children is Eastern Europe. Actually, with this album being recorded not long after Kerry Livgren (guitars, keyboards) and Dave Hope’s (bass, vocals) conversion to Christianity, many of the songs focus on issues from a Christian perspective. (see Relentless", "Hold On", and "Curtain of Iron")
Unfortunately the growing tension between Walsh and Livgren was growing to a boiling point. They had both released solo albums the same year, and "Audio-Visions" would be the last album with Walsh for quite a while.
Kansas - Vinyl Confessions (Kirshner/ CBS) 1982
1. Play the Game Tonight (3:24)
2. Right Away (4:03)
3. Fair Exchange (4:56)
4. Chasing Shadows (3:17)
5. Diamonds and Pearls (4:47)
6. Face It (4:15)
7. Windows (3:29)
8. Borderline (3:57)
9. Play on (3:30)
10. Crossfire (6:33)
Exit keyboardist/singer/songwriter Steve Walsh. Enter in the smooth voice of John Elefante. John was to Kansas what Tommy Shaw was to Styx. He helps to create a strong melodic rock album with hints of the progressive rock of the past. As well, Elefante, much like Livgren, is a passionate Christian. With Elefante writing and co-writing several tracks speak directly of a spiritual awakening, and in fact seem to be the overall theme of the album.
Musically, Kansas continue to move away from progressive rock of the 1970's and firmly plant their feet into the arena rock sound of the 1980's, alongside bands like Asia and Foreigner. The songs are shorter and have more pop appeal. However, they still retain some of that classic Kansas progressive sound. For example, both "Fair Exchange" and "Crossfire" are Livgren-penned songs that are a testimony to his unique style and charisma. They are also the album's standout tracks, along with the huge melodic rock hit "Play the Game Tonight". "Face It" is an elegant melodic rock number that benefits from slightly prog-oriented arrangement that includes a gorgeous intro. Elefante is a fantastic singer with a big, smooth, tenor voice. As usual, Steinhardt's violin work helps distinguish the Kansas sound from any number of other melodic rock bands, even if his instrument is used more sparingly than in the past.
"Vinyl Confessions" is usually shunned by progressive rock fans and even many die-hard Kansas fans seem to distance themselves from it. However, in my opinion, it's a solid album and better than the album the preceded and followed it.
Kansas - Drastic Measures (Rock Candy) 1983
1. Fight Fire With Fire (3:40)
2. Everybody's my Friend (4:09)
3. Mainstream (6:36)
4. Andi (4:15)
5. Going Through the Motions (5:43)
6. Get Rich (3:43)
7. Don't Take Your Love Away (3:44)
8. End of the Age (4:33)
9. Incident On a Bridge (5:37)
Originally release in 1983 on CBS Records, "Drastic Measures" is the second Elefante led Kansas disc after 1982's "Vinyl Confessions". It's fairly obvious that band leader Kerry Livgren's involvement was decreasing as John and Dino Elefante's were increasing. Six of the album's nine tracks were written by vocalist and keyboardist John Elefante and co-written with his brother Dino. Founding member Steve Walsh was now two years gone and Robbie Steinhardt had left the year before. For the very first time Kansas was a quintet. Apparently, Steinhardt had grown tired of Kansas' growing Christian affiliation and quit the band at the end of the 1982 tour. It was obvious that Livgren's lyrics were becoming more spiritually charged. No song was more evident of that than "End Of The Age". As well, John Elephante was a Christian. However, regardless of the band's lyrical approach, with Walsh and Steinhardt absent, the band lacked two of their most distinctive features in Walsh's voice and Steinhardt's violin. That being the case, one has to look at "Drastic Measures" as an entirely different band. With that in mind, "Drastic Measures" isn't a bad album. It's just not the lush, progressive rock that is associated with the Kansas name.
The album's opening track "Fight Fire With Fire" is a straightforward 80's power pop song with a simple rhythm and catchy lyrics. It sounds absolutely nothing like Kansas and has more in common with what Foreigner and Journey were doing at the time. However, it's still a very likable song and was a minor hit for the band. "Mainstream" may be the most progressive song on the album. The song starts off as a guitar drive, AOR rocker but also features an interesting percussive breakdown in the middle of the song that adds a bit of flavor to the song. The lyrics in the song seem to express Livegrin's growing disappointment in the band's more AOR, mainstream direction as well as a anger towards the music industry in general. "Andi" is a made-for-radio ballad, but not so sickly sweet and tacky that it becomes annoying. "Incident on a Bridge" is one other song on the album that touches on the band's former progressive tendencies. It's a Livgren composition that deals with the Biblical idea of the Rapture. The song features some excellent guitar playing and intricate keyboard work.
Nothing will surpass classics like "Leftoverture" and "Point of No Return", but "Drastic Measures" isn't the travesty some people make it out to be. It's a decent AOR album for a band that was searching for it's place in a new decade of music.
Following the release, Livgren and bassist Dave Hope left the band and formed the Contemporary Christian band AD. The Elefante brothers went on to focus on slightly heavier music. They formed their own label Pakaderm Records and become successful producers of Christian bands like Guardian and Petra. They also formed their own band Mastedon and released "It’s a Jungle Out There!" (1989) and "Lofcaudio" (1990).
Kansas - Power (MCA) 1986
1. Silhouettes in Disguise (4:26)
2. Power (4:25)
3. All I Wanted (3:20)
4. Secret Service (4:42)
5. We're not alone anymore (4:16)
6. Musicatto [instrumental] (3:30)
7. Taking in the View (3:06)
8. Three Pretenders (3:50)
9. Tomb 19 (3:46)
10. Can't Cry Anymore (4:01)
The 80's must have been an interesting time for some of the big progressive bands like Genesis, Yes and Kansas. What all these bands have in common is that by the mid-80's they had all mostly abandoned the progressive rock for something far more straight-forward and radio friendly. There were other bands like Asia with 70's icons Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes, John Wetton and Steve Howe also taking a pop/AOR approach to songwriting. As well Steve Hackett and Steve Howe were out marketing themselves as GTR. In '86 Kansas reformed after a short break-up, only without key members Kerry Livgren, Dave Hope or Robby Steinhardt. The remaining members recorded this "reunion" album, with new guitarist Steve Morse of the Dixie Dregs. (Steve later went on to Deep Purple). What resulted is fairly far removed from the classic 70's Kansas sound. The layered vocals, the violins, and the spiritual lyrics all seem to be absent. In truth, there are some minor violin parts in the occasional orchestral backing, but the violin certainly doesn't play a key role like it did in the past. However, I still find "Power" to be an enjoyable album. I've also found albums by Yes, Asia and Genesis from the 80's to be equally entertaining. Perhaps it was the fact that I grew up in that era and hearing these records. Nostalgia most certainly plays a part in what a person enjoys. However, despite the slick productions and toned down songwriting, the songs are still there.
"Silhouettes in Disguise" and "We’re Not Alone Anymore" are fairly rocking songs. I remember reading a review back when this was released that accused Kansas of going "heavy metal". That is hardly the case, though I understand the point being made. Both these songs are probably harder rockin' than anyone would expect from Kansas, but then again, this wasn't 1977 and this isn't the same Kansas. "Power" is one of the singles released from the album and is a solid rock-power-ballad. Steve Walsh's vocals sound great here. The other single was "All I Wanted", which is about as sappy and sickening as an 80's broken-love ballad gets. Steve Perry would have been proud to have had this song on one of his solo albums. Still, the song was a Top-40 hit single for the band. The song "Secret Service" employs some of the previously mentioned orchestration. The orchestration, which I believe was performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, helps to give the song a sound that is slightly closer to classic Kansas. As well, the instrumental "Musicatto" recalls some of the progressive tendencies of the past. However, these connections are not the norm.
No, it's not classic Kansas, but then again, I know few fans of Genesis or Yes that call albums like "Invisible Touch" or "90215" classic either. The fact still remains that those albums are quite enjoyable and so is "Power".
Kansas - In the Spirit of Things (MCA) 1988
1. Ghosts (4:18)
2. One Big Sky (5:17)
3. Inside of Me (4:42)
4. One Man, One Heart (4:20)
5. House on Fire (4:42)
6. Once in a Lifetime (4:14)
7. Stand Beside Me (3:28)
8. I Counted On Love (3:33)
9. The Preacher (4:18)
10. Rainmaker (6:44)
11. T.O. Witcher. (1:39)
12. Bells of Saint James (5:39)
"In the Spirit of Things" is the eleventh studio album for Kansas and the third without violinist Robby Steinhardt (who had left during the recordings1982’s "Vinyl Confessions"), and the second without consummate guitarist/songwriter Kerry Livgren and bassist Dave Hope, who both left after the 1983 release of "Drastic Measures". Returning to the fold is vocalist and keyboard player Steve Walsh, who had rejoined the band for the 1986 "Power" release, as well as former Streets bassist Billy Greer and Dixie Dregs (and soon to be Deep Purple) guitarist Steve Morse. Obviously, without some key players, Kansas were not the same band they were when they recorded their hugely successful 70's album. By 1986 Kansas was no longer the big name in rock and roll that it once was. Kansas, or their record company, were obviously desperate to make a big record. Enter Bob Ezrin. He makes big concept records with a flair for the dramatic. Mega successful albums such as Alice Cooper "Welcome to My Nightmare", Kiss "Destoyer", Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and Lou Reed "Berlin" are just a sampling of the albums that Ezrin has had a hand in. With that in mind, "In the Spirit of Things" is a very unusual album for Kansas, as they experiment with many types of music including straight-forward hard rock ("House of Fire"), '80s power ballads ("I Counted On Love"), melodic AOR ("Bells Of Saint James") and rarely progressive rock ("Rainmaker"). Outside songwriters were brought in by the record company to increase the 'hit' factor as well. As well, the album is a concept record based on the flood and destruction of a small Kansas town. What results may sound like a total disaster, but actually, "In the Spirit of Things" is a pleasant, surprisingly entertaining album. It's far from being a classic and doesn't quite have the same charisma as the classic Kansas catalog. In fact, I'd say that the album could have been recorded by any number of bands. However, that doesn't mean it's bad either.
Kansas - Freaks of Nature (Intersound) 1995
1. I Can Fly (5:21)
2. Desperate Times (5:24)
3. Hope Once Again (4:33)
4. Black Fathom 4 (5:53)
5. Under theKknife (4:59)
6. Need (4:01)
7. Freaks of Nature (4:05)
8. Cold Grey Morning (4:13)
9. Peaceful and Warm (6:45)
"Freaks of Nature" featured
Williams, Ehart, Walsh from the original band Kansas line-up, as well as long
time bassist Billy Greer and new members David Ragsdale (guitar, violin) and
Greg Robert (keys). Of course anything the band does now will forever be compared
to their classic catalog and as such will probably fall flat, especially without
Livgren involved. (Livgren does contribute one song, "Cold Grey Morning".) So,
it goes without saying that "Freaks of Nature" is not the masterpiece that "Leftoverture"
was. Still, this sounds more like what I hoped for from Kansas than anything
else I have heard from them since the 1970's. "I Can Fly" is a revisitation
of Kansas' recurrent "Icarus" theme and opens the album with a punch. The exciting
violin line and soaring vocals sound upbeat and fresh, and in stark contrast
to what is going on in music in 1995. The title track has a fresh edge it as
well. "Hope Once Again" probably could have been a hit for the band if it had
been released during the band's heyday. Of course that would never happen in
the musically depressed times we have been living in since the invasion of grunge
in the 90's. "Cold grey morning" is a decent song, if not a bit uneventful.
I suppose I expected something more from a song penned by Livegrin. The closing
song ends things on a positive note. It is an almost epic length, mellow song
that has a sound that reminds me of "Song For America".
Despite my somewhat glowing
review, do a bit of searching on the web and you will soon find that many Kansas
fans disagree with me completely. Some fans seem to literally hate this CD.
I even read a couple reviews that stated that this album was an embarrassment.
I think this is a tad overkill. I really can't see what is so bad about it.
It's not 1976 anymore. It's 1995, and as such, this is a good release from a
Kansas - Somewhere to Elsewhere (Magna Carta) 2000
1. Icarus II (7:17)
2. When The World Was Young (5:50)
3. Grand Fun Alley (4:38)
4. The Coming Dawn (Thanatopsis) (5:44)
5. Myriad (8:55)
6. Look At The Time (5:37)
7. Disappearing Skin Tight Blues (7:02)
8. Distant Vision (8:48)
9. Byzantium (4:15)
10. Not Man Big (8:39)
11. Geodesic Dome [hidden track] (1:24)
"Somewhere to Elsewhere" is the fourteenth studio album by progressive rockers Kansas. This album marks the reunion of the original 1970s lineup, along with Billy Greer, who joined Kansas for "Power". With the reunion of the classic line-up the band also attempts to write an album in the vintage Kansas sound and for the most part are successful. Kansa prove to the world that they can still write and play dynamic, melodic and progressive rock in a similar manner to what they did in their 1970's heyday. However, unlike those old days, However, unlike those days of old, Steve Walsh did not contribute songs to this work and Kerry Livgren composed all of the music and even sings on the hidden track "Geodesic Dome."
The album kicks off with the seven minute long "Icarus II", which despite the references to the original "Icarus" track from "Masque", it is not a revisit. The mostly melodic track breaks into a hard rock interlude, once again reminding me of the band's glory days. The follow-up track "When the World Was Young" is another melodic rock track but is quite technical and progressive. I could almost describe the song as a jam. "Distant Visions" and "Myriad" are two other grand, epic, prog numbers. "Myriad" features a beautiful interplay between the violins, keys and some nice guitar work. "Byzantium" is a sweet ballad with a slight flavor of the Orient. The cleverly titled "Grand Fun Alley" is a funk number that sounds like it could have been a Billy Greer number and, I believe, features Greer as lead vocalist. "Not Man Big" is a hard rocker that, for the most part, finishes off the album. Robbie Steinhardt adds some of his trademark violin to the song helping to give the song that classic Kansas sound. There is also a hidden track with Livgren on vocals, as already mentioned. "Geodesic Dome" is a short, folksy, blues song that is purposely recorded as if it were being heard through a small single speaker.
Kansas can still write some beautiful progressive rock with gorgeous melodies. I'm glad for this reunion album the band chose to abandon the AOR and pop rock sounds and return to what made them great in the 70's. "Somewhere to Elsewhere" may not be the band's grand finale (Grand Fun Alley), but it's certainly an album that I enjoy
Mastedon | Kerry Livegrin