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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Kansas

Leftoverture

Review by Gary Hill

This was the breakthrough disc for Kansas. Many times that means “sell out” album. That’s definitely not the case here. They didn’t compromise their musical vision or prog rock tendencies. Honed them to a fine precision would be more like it. This is probably the most consistent and powerful album that Kansas had produced by this point. There’s not a weak track on show here and we get at least three or four all time classics. If you’ve never owned a Kansas album this would be the obvious choice for first acquisition. It’s a case where the obvious choice is the right one.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Carry On Wayward Son

The first huge hit from this band, acapella vocals open this stomper. They go through a chorus like that and then launch into the familiar riff driven jam. Feeling like Boston meets progressive rock this is classic rock at its best. This song still holds up very well and showcases all the things that made Kansas great. We get stunning vocals, balladic sections and screaming crunch prog. There are lots of changes and don’t forget that violin. This is a track that made it big on the radio and deserved to do so. Odds are if you are reading this you are familiar with this song. Let’s just suffice it to say, “yes, it is as good as you remember.”

The Wall
Here they give us a track that is essentially an anthemic ballad. That really doesn’t quite cut it in terms of description, though. There is a definite symphonic element to this. I also doubt anyone would consider this not progressive rock. You also have to mention the emotion. This is just such an evocative piece. It’s a great song and an excellent choice for the important second slot.
What's On My Mind

The verses are more in a balladic fashion, but overall this is a hard rocking jam. It’s perhaps not pure progressive rock. I can definitely see that argument. The guitar solo section on this really reminds me of something from Robin Trower’s Bridge of Sighs album.

Miracles Out Of Nowhere

This has all the classic progressive rock trappings. There are mystical lyrics and lots of interesting musical passage. Some awesome keyboard sounds can be heard on this, too. They include an almost ELP-like section later in the track. This is classic Kansas and a great tune to boot. The outro reminds me of vintage Genesis.

Opus Insert
The section that leads this off reminds me quite a bit of Genesis (but mid-period). They work from there through a central song structure that’s pretty trademark Kansas. We get an instrumental section that might feel at home on an ELP album. They close this with that same Genesis-like segment that opened it.
Questions Of My Childhood

A fast paced jam opens this up and we’re off on another by the numbers Kansas jam. Once again there are some sections that will make you think of ELP a bit. This is another great tune on a disc that has no weak material at all. There’s an exceptionally tasty violin solo later in this number.

Cheyenne Anthem

The keyboard sound that starts this reminds me of Starcastle. It gives way to a melodic and quite mellow ballad based section and this is built up gradually. At a little past the one minute mark it shifts to a very dramatic pattern as piano weaves a nearly classical melody for the next vocals and they build from there on this. They power it back up, but then drop it down and we get some female vocals. Then it moves out into an instrumental section that is quite tasty. At a little past the three minute mark they turn the corner into something that feels a bit like klesmer music, but with an ELP-styled tinge to it. There are some circus music elements on this and I keep picturing someone balancing on the high wire. This is quite an inspired instrumental section and a nice change up. They work out to something closer to the main themes of the track after a time and I can hear Genesis on this section, too. It works to quite a powerful climax and then piano takes it to a false ending. They bring back the ballad section that was at the beginning of the track to carry forward after this. From there we’re back to a soaring prog instrumental section as they carry it on to the closing segment.

Magnum Opus

This eight and a half minute multi-section epic is well named. It starts off with dramatic, nearly symphonic rhythmic structures. Then they launch out into a killer dramatic prog jam from there. They drop it way down and what sounds like an echoey, fuzz bass takes a solo. This is very cool and then gives way to a keyboard journey that starts sedate and builds. This is just jam packed with fairly quick changes and alterations as it moves one way and then another – and that’s just the extended introduction. They drop it back to a soulful ballad section for the first vocals and build it up from there. This segment peaks at around the two and a half minute mark and then they scream out into a frantic ELP-like jam. They shift it in different directions as this careens here and there. It’s another killer instrumental foray. This seems even more dynamic than the introduction. At times it feels downright “E – Vil!” They drop it way down again around the five minute mark and then begin building it back up from there. Eventually they scream back out into another harder rocking jam and then shift to an earlier theme to take it out.

 
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