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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Kansas

Kansas (Remaster)

Review by Gary Hill

Along with Song For America, this disc is the first in a series of remasters of classic albums by this American prog band. The two CD's definitely show different sides to the band. Truly there are points on this album where the band feels more like a bar band than a progressive rock icon. However, there are songs here that rival, if not surpass, the best compositions of its follow up. One can only guess that some of the more amateurish material here is much older and that the more proggy stuff was written in about the same time period as the second album. The bonus cut here is much more vital than the two on Song For America, actually, in the opinion of this reviewer, adding to the release.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2004 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Can I Tell You
This one comes in rather bouncy and the violin adds a hoe-down texture. As the verse enters, it takes on a more traditional prog air. This is a solid rocker. It gets quite heavy later, and the violin solo really rocks. In fact, the instrumental break that houses it is one of the coolest ever from this band.
Bringing It Back
This cut has a solid rocking texture with a down home feel. This one wouldn't really qualify as prog. Instead it probably has a lot more in common with the pre-hits era REO Speedwagon. The violin solo section reminds this reviewer a bot of "The Devil Went Down To Georgia".
Lonely Wind
"Lonely Wind" is a mellow, slightly syrupy ballad. It gets somewhat potent later, but it in my opinion is a throwaway cut with the exception of maybe 30 or 40 seconds that are rather dramatic.
Belexis
Now this is more like it! This one comes in fast and rather hard-edged. It quickly shifts gear to an incredibly dramatic jam, still very uptempo and with a slight Eastern twist. This is a killer high-energy prog rocker with strong instrumental work from all and some scorching vocals. It is certainly one of the highlights of the disc. The later break is an incredible smoker. A drum solo leads to the closing crescendo.
Journey from Mariabronn
An ELPish keyboard driven jam opens this one. As the next melodic section enters, the ELP tendencies are still there. The cut drops to a neo-classical segment, then jumps back up to fast paced prog jamming. This new segment, reworked a bit, serves as the backdrop for much of the verse. This is another killer track where the band seemed to have achieved a nearly perfect style. They deftly transition from mellow to frantic with incredibly smooth transitions. This one changes a lot, new sections jutting out of the landscape like mountains emerging from the ground, yet they never manage to lose the listener. This is truly one of the coolest prog numbers you will ver hear. This one alone is worth owning the album. After hearing this mini-epic the only word to emerge from my lips was, "wow!"
The Pilgrimage
This starts with a mellow jazzy open segment, then jumps up to a bouncy, vaguely southern rock textured excursion. Its fun, but just pales in comparison after the masterpiece that preceded it. Still, the violin solo, with its hoe-down texture is cool.
Apercu
Another epic length track, this one also feels a lot like ELP at first. It quickly shifts gear to a new jam that is all Kansas, though. Then it drops to a mellow jazzy segment that serves as the backdrop for the first verse. The cut jumps back up to triumphant rocking segments as the verse ends. This is just a short interlude, though, as the group drops back to the section that came before. After firing back up, they launch into a strong instrumental break that features quite a bit of varied soloing. Then they drop it back down a new and dramatic balladic segment for the next verse. This plays through, building in intensity for a time, then gives way to an instrumental break featuring a violin solo. Then a quick shift of gears to a tentative section that feels a bit like ELO for a moment, then they move into a more hard-edged jam - one part solid instrumental prog, one part straight ahead rock and roll. The group rework this, steering it more fully into the prog direction. This jam actually feels a bit like Starcastle at times. They drop back to the freeform mellow jazzy verse segment after a time, taking us full circle. The alternating mellow and harder edged segments return This time, though, the harder segment leads to another instrumental interlude that moves us into a soaring bridge. Then an all new jam, the hardest rocking and strongest of the cut jumps out to take the piece to its next change. This ends abruptly, but you don't really notice because of the way they begin the next number.
Death of Mother Nature Suite
This one begins with a crescendo that sounds if it is the ending of the previous number. The band then launch into a hard-edged jam that I would really consider one of the first instances of progressive metal. This mode, alternated with a very mellow, but darkly dramatic verse makes up the main theme of the track. The band throw in a long break, though. This starts in the form of a mellow segment, but then changes gear to a very high-energy rocking instrumental segment. Eventually it drops back to the mellow verse segment and the hard-edged chorus that serves to frame it. This time the guitar solos all over this harder backdrop as the group extends it to an instrumental jam. They start bumping up the tempo after a time, the drop back to a fast paced acoustic guitar driven mode. This builds back up to a hard-edged jam that ends the piece.
Bringing it Back Live - Bonus Track
A mellow jazzy free form exploration starts the cut on this extended version. The band moves this forward ever so slowly, eventually hard rocking boogie woogie type stylings emerge and they launch shortly into the song proper. This is a very lively and superior take on the track. They throw in a strong instrumental excursion that calls to mind early Deep Purple just a bit, particularly the cut "Lazy". Certainly the live version of this number elevates it quite a bit. The guitar truly smokes here.
 
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