Artists | Issues | CD Reviews | Interviews | Concert Reviews | DVD/Video Reviews | Book Reviews | Who We Are | Staff | Home
 
Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Kerry Livgren

/AD - Timeline

Review by Scott Prinzing

After Kerry Livgren’s excellent solo debut in 1980, he waited a few years before his second.  For a while, it looked like he was going to be content working with John Elefante as the new singer in Kansas, but after 1983’s Drastic Measures, it appeared as if the democratic forces in the band were more interested in the Elefante brothers’ (John and big brother Dino) more pop oriented songs than Livgren’s progressive opuses.  Kansas was obviously not making the best use of his talents (Livgren had only three of nine writing credits on that album; the current tour setlist features about three quarters Livgren songs), so perhaps Timeline was inevitable.  Originally released on vinyl and cassette in 1984, it was included in Livgren’s double-disc Decade compilation in 1990.  In 1996, Sony re-released it with a 24-minute interview track.

Instead of the all-star cast that he called upon for Seeds of Change, Livgren put together a band, AD (for Anno Domini, Latin for “In the year of the Lord”).  Kansas bassist and fellow born again Christian, Dave Hope, was along for the ride. His playing is solid and intricate without being flashy.  Two vocalists were found among the top auditions to replace Steve Walsh.  Former Bloodrock vocalist and multi-instrumentalist (sax/flute/harmonica) Warren Ham toured as an additional musician with Kansas on the Vinyl Confessions tour (even guested on that album).  Kansas opened for Bloodrock once back in the early ’70s.  Vocalist Michael Gleason proved a good sparring partner on keyboards and rhythm guitar, as well as bringing writing skills. Gleason also helped augment Kansas on the Drastic Measures tour.  Drummer Dennis Holt rounded out the band.

It wasn’t intended as a Christian band, let alone a band project, but developed into one as Livgren and Hope left Kansas.  When Sony wouldn’t let them compete with Kansas as it were, the band became simply “AD” for the next two albums, released and marketed in the Christian market.  The result was the larger secular market’s loss and one of the Christian music scenes greatest bands of all time. Livgren also hadn’t intended to produce and engineer the album, but decided to spend his entire budget on building a home studio, so he had to learn how to engineer it himself.  The result was a contemporary prog sound with tight arrangements and songs that would not have been out of place on a Kansas album.  The lyrics are Christian for those whom have ears to hear, but not so much to ward off anyone who doesn’t share Livgren’s religious beliefs.  They are more intellectual than most, Livgren once told me that he felt most Christian artists lyrics were more like nursery rhymes.  I’ll quote a few examples below to support the distinction.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Timeline

The album opens with the most un-Kansas track of the set; a punchy rhythm track with synth drums and big bass, light on guitar, with horns and a shared lead vocal by Gleason and Ham, and featuring a short tenor sax solo.  John Elefante guests on harmonies and percussion.  This is about looking at time as a continuum without beginning or end, “Your conscience keeps reminding you / Approaching zero is not far away.”

Tonight

This would have been my choice for the single, although I doubt there ever was one.  At first listen, it sounds like a song about desiring a lover (“I want to go all the way / I don’t care what they say”), but it is likely about the night when Livgren had his conversion experience.  Warren Ham’s vocal performance is impressive.

Make or Break It
This is the one song written solely by Gleason, who sings its mouthful of words (“It’s a test of any man’s endurance / Just to survive the castigations / You hope and pray for some deliverance / As you hope to turn to face the accusations”). 
Take Us to the Water

I’ve always liked bands with multiple lead vocalists.  This song provides a nice contrast between the bluesy belter Ham (“Out in the streets, there’s risin’ a cry”) and the almost pretty Elefante-esque bridges from Gleason (I’ll give you fountains that never run dry”).  Ham also blows a mean blues harp before Livgren’s whammy-bar solo with his distinctively fat tone that he can pull out of any make and model.

Beyond the Pale

A beautiful ballad, this is unlike that most famous of Livgren songs, “Dust in the Wind,” but similar in tone.  (“I look in your eyes / A great gulf between us / I’ll be your friend / But never keep silent.”)  It’s piano-based, co-written with Gleason, with a bit of synth-orchestration and tympani.

New Age Blues
This kicks off with blues harp, one of the few riff-based songs, a clear choice for ham to holler; not a 12-bar blues, but bluesy nonetheless; a real rocker, co-written with Gleason.  It is a lament for the modern religious quest into the ancient religions of the world that Livgren once traveled.  (“You look to the East, you look to the West / The gathering storm makes you feel so distressed / You’re caught in the wheel, you’re buyin’ the lie / You’re looking for wonders and signs in the sky.”)  There are cool harmonies throughout.
Slow Motion Suicide

The last few songs have the proggiest arrangements and instrumentation, although nothing seems out of place in this collection.  Lots of tempo changes are packed into a little less than four minutes.  “When your vision is clear, you can see for a mile / If your ears can hear, belief will change your style.”

High on a Hill

This is definitely one of the highest points on this album - the “Hill” in the lyric being Calvary, “The place where time stood still.”  Great performances are provided by all involved (interestingly, a Craig Harber on drums here). This has very Kansas-like instrumental sections with vibes (synth?), harmonies and tasty lead licks.

Life Undercover
This starts out with bit of funky guitar mixed with piano and harmonica; with a very nice a cappella bridge before breaking into a syncopated instrumental section with sax.  A fairly laid back composition overall, there are some decidedly stronger lyrics, like, “There’s a dagger of guilt that’s piercing through your sleepless nights” and “A poison tongue brings a burning fate.”
Welcome to the War

This is the big opus of the bunch, although it clocks in at barely five minutes, it still feels epic.  Gleason manages to sound slightly like both Steve Walsh and John Elefante at times (a worthy successor along with Ham). Lyrically, it seems to touch on both Armageddon and an internal war waged in each of us.  Livgren lets rip with a backward guitar solo, harkening back to “Belexes”  from the first Kansas album.

Interview with Kerry Livgren
Here we get a 24-minute interview that deals with the development of this album and the parting of Kansas.
 
More CD Reviews
Metal/Prog Metal
Non-Prog
Progressive Rock
 
Google

   Creative Commons License
   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    © 2019 Music Street Journal                                                                           Site design and programming by Studio Fyra, Inc./Beetcafe.com