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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Kansas

Song For America (Remaster)

Review by Gary Hill

Kansas is in the midst of reissuing its catalog. The first of these remasters is the self-titled album and this one. Certainly of the two this is the superior recording as the band had found their ground in terms of performing and writing together by this second release. They were becoming more of a focused professional band, and seeming less like a bar band. This disc features some classic material, not all of it prog, but the vast majority certainly falling into that category. Indeed, listening to these recordings again, it seems that Kansas' hard-edged take on prog rock was probably a bigger influence on the newer school of proggers than such progressive rock greats as Yes, Genesis and King Crimson were.

The reissues include bonus cuts. This album has the single edit of the title track, and a live version of the album opener. While both of these have a certain historical interest quality to them, I feel that the disc would have been stronger without them. Seems a small complaint to such a great disc, though. If you didn't get this the first time around, here's your chance to pick up a solid helping of American prog done the right way.

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
Donw The Road
This one comes in fairly fast and hard-edged. The violin adds an intriguing texture to this intro. It drops to a sparse arrangement for the verse, but shortly thereafter bursts out into a frantic prog jam where all the instruments get their chance to shine. Violin and guitar particularly play the stars there. It eventually drops back to the verse, and the vocals here really have a lot of energy. The instrumental jamming returns after this verse, very frantically. Other than one line of vocals, the instruments take the cut to its end.
Song For America
A great syncopated melody begins this early Kansas classic. The band work through variations on this melody, rearranging and refocusing it for quite a time. Then a synthesizer driven segment heralds a change toward the verse section. Several tempo and melody changes follow before the band take it to the true verse. The vocal oriented parts are very accessible, but just quirky enough to keep it interesting. After a time, a keyboard solo takes the cut, then the track moves back toward earlier musical themes before it stops abruptly to be replaced by a solo piano. This leads into a new instrumental jam, feeling quite a bit like ELP. This eventually gives way to a return to the earlier modes, and those carry the cut through to its conclusion.
Lamplight Symphony
Starting hard, frantic and quite dramatically, after this intro the cut drops down to a mellow verse, then builds back up. It begins an alternation between these two contrasts. This one guts quite powerful at times. After a while, a new instrumental break, arguably the strongest point in the track, emerges and the band carry this through with brief cuts back to the earlier segments to a mellow and very classically oriented section. They then work it back up to the hard-edged modes with themes from earlier in the song to return to the main verse segment. This is a very dynamic and potent piece.
Lonely Street
This starts with just bass and vocals in a very bluesy mode. As the other instruments join in, the cut explodes into a crunch, gritty blues jam. This one is quite straightforward and not very progish, but it's a strong jam. It is a very hard rocker, both the vocals and the guitar taking a chance to scream at times.
The Devil Game
This one comes in hard edged and high energy and comes across as proggy and very classic Kansas in sound. This is solid, but not a standout.
Incomudro - Hymn To The Atman
A dramatic classic Kansas fanfare gives way to a mellow, contemplative verse. The band builds on this theme in dramatic ways for quite a time. It eventually builds up a bit with keys taking the fore, a driving bass beat hinting at the sonic explosion to come. This eventually bears fruit as a triumphant sounding instrumental bridge enters, then gives way to a more sedate freeform type jam that moves back to the original themes. The group experiment with this sonic landscape for a time, exploring it instrumentally. Then it drops off to a new instrumental mode in an off-kilter jam that continues to gain momentum as it carries forward. Another change launches the band into more high-energy jamming in an all new theme. A gong drops it into a full on drum solo. Keys punctuate this occasionally. The cut eventually jumps back up to the main themes. As it carries, on the violin plays across it for a time in dramatic style. A poignant vocal segment comes out of this, then the band ramp it up to the most frantic prog jam of the entire piece. This segment smokes. A keyboard dominated, at times neo classical mode serves as the resolution to this, then the sound of thunder or an explosion ends the piece. This one is quite cool, if somewhat lacking in a coherent texture.
Song For America (Single Edit) Bonus Track
This is really an unsuccessful edit of the title cut. Some of the transitions are quite rough and abrupt here. It certainly pales in comparison to the full rendition.
Down the Road - Live Bonus Track
This live rendition is frantic and fast paced. It does suffer a bit from some occasional feedback. Still, the band sure show they can pull it off in style live.
 
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