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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Kansas

Works In Progress

Review by Gary Hill

This disc is a new compilation from Kansas. There is one interesting paradox (and you might note that that is in fact a title of a Kansas song - although one not included on this set) here. While they have created a very nicely packaged double disc set (well get to that later) the liner notes give a good background on the band, but don't really tell us where these recordings come from. It would have been nice if it had been credited. I've even seen this listed on the Internet as a live album. While some of the material is live, not all of it is. In actually this compilation was culled from three different albums, Live From The Whisky, Freaks Of Nature and Device Voice Drum. You'll note that two of those albums are actually live discs. I mentioned that this is a double disc set. The second disc is a DVD consisting of videos that for the most part are taken from their Device Voice Drum DVD. Still, it's cool that they chose to include this in the set, and not all the material has been previously released. Kansas fans should eat this one up, but for those who aren't really that far into the band there might be better places to start. I suppose on the other hand that most Kansas fanatics probably already have this material.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Mysteries & Mayhem
With a smoking classic (or should I say "klassic?") Kansas sound, this one is a great introduction. It has some elements that feel like other songs by the band, but still manages a unique tone of its own. It drops back to ambience powered by the violin at about mid-song. This works up ever slowly, perhaps in a means of creating the "mysteries" portion of the title. The violin does solo in a mysterious and dramatic manner in the backdrop for quite some time. They eventually launch back out into more trademark Kansas jamming and a fiery instrumental segment.
Portrait
This melodic rocker is certainly one of the band's better-known numbers. They put together a very strong rendition here.
Down the Road
This fast paced rocker starts off here with a drum solo that runs for about half a minute (actually just a little over). They crank this one out with style and power. It's essentially a boogie rock number delivered with a trademark Kansas sound. While the majority of this track doesn't really qualify as progressive rock, when they turn it out into the killer extended jam that takes it to its outro, the prog stylings are all over this.
Black Fathom 4
One of the cuts from the Freaks of Nature disc, while this one may be less well-known, it powers in with a very easily identifiable Kansas sound. They power it through the harder rocking introduction, then drop it back to a more sparse arrangement for the verse. They burst it back up afterwards and carry the cut forward. This one isn't one of their strongest numbers, but it's definitely not one of their most forgettable either. The instrumental segment is a definite plus and features some smoking performances.
Freaks of Nature
The title track to the Freaks of Nature album, this one has a more straight ahead rock and roll texture, but still is pretty cool. The chorus is a bit too generic, though. This is definitely amongst the weaker material here. The slightly odd bridge is a nice touch, though.
Under the Knife
Violin starts this one (another from the same album) in dramatic tones and the group gradually join in carrying these types of textures forward as they do so. This one grows slowly and steadily, and while not all that well known, is a really potent piece of music. When it explodes out later the cut really smokes. I'd have to say that this one is one of the hidden gems on this release.
I Can Fly
This is another fast paced Kansas rocker - and is also from the Freaks of Nature disc. It's more straightforward than some of their stuff, but has enough proggy jamming to please. It's not one of the stronger cuts on show here, though. The dramatic segment mid-song with its classical and old world textures, though, is a very nice touch.
Peaceful and Warm
With an acoustic ballad texture this one (the final inclusion from Freaks of Nature) is very pretty and as one might imagine, peaceful and warm. It's a nice change of pace. I really like this one quite a bit. Throughout the majority of the cut there aren't a lot of changes, the song drawing its variety by lushing up the arrangement. Later, though, they move this out into a killer progressive rock instrumental segment that has a very triumphant and uplifting trademark Kansas sound.
The Wall
Always a favorite of mine, this Kansas classic is powerful and here includes symphonic instrumentation for great effect. This is definitely a winner.
Cheyenne Anthem
A Native American based tune, this one here is augmented with a lot of symphonic music. It's a potent ballad that has a lot going for it. It's definitely another strong point to this collection. It is extremely evocative. I have to say, though, that there are points where the orchestral arrangement goes a little too far.
Hold On
To me portions of this cut always represented the worst of the pop era Kansas. The thing is, in this format, a ballad like structure with symphonic accompaniment, it works pretty well. While I wouldn't consider this to be the best song on the disc, it is quite powerful here. Here it gains a lot of emotional oomph.
Dust in the Wind
Another of the best-known Kansas tracks, this beautiful ballad is especially powerful here. While I might have opted for a more full rocking number to close the audio disc, this one is still a good choice. Even after years of being over-played on the radio (and everywhere else) this one still holds up. With the addition of the orchestral instruments it gains quite a bit, too.
 
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