What does it sound like?:
So, Kansas, possibly the ugliest band in the world. Not hip or trendy in any way, but if you can put that aside and you have an appreciation for prog, read on.
To put my interest in context, 1977 was a schizophrenic year. My old concert tickets show that I saw Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd, but I also saw the Clash and the Sex Pistols. In the middle of all that, in the summer of ‘77, I went to America for the first time and stayed with a family in the heart of Long Island, New York. I had met the girl when she came over on a school exchange trip. We bonded over a shared appreciation of Boston’s first album.
The other music she and her friends listened to was Aerosmith (Toys In The Attic), Foghat Live, Frampton Comes Alive, Rumours (you couldn’t get away from it) and Leftoverture by Kansas, which contained their big hit at the time, Carry On Wayward Son. Some of it has stayed with me. In fact all of it, except Foghat.
So that’s the background to why I chose to review this double CD, a cash-in on the 40th anniversary of Leftoverture, with a second CD of other material.
This incarnation of Kansas contains only two original members out of six – drummer Phil Ehart and rhythm guitarist Rich Williams. Leader and songwriter Kerry Livgren left many years ago while more recent departures include singer and keyboard man Steve Walsh, along with singer and violinist Robbie Steinhardt.
So, the first thing anyone familiar with the originals will have to get over is the change of singer. Vocals are now handled mainly by new keyboardist Ronnie Platt, supported by bassist Billy Greer. Platt can carry a tune, but prog singing requires a certain delivery to match the ostentation of the music. Steve Walsh had that in spades. A song like Journey from Mariabronn, from the first Kansas album, is one of their most successful compositions, made especially effective by Walsh’s impassioned delivery. Platt, while he hits the notes, can’t convey the drama in the same way.
Running through this double CD, there are occasions where the band manage to capture the rhythm and the spirit of the originals. Point of Know Return from CD 1 is a good example. More often, they lay it on too heavy, as if to compensate for a lack of dexterity. The drums are especially laboured and sluggish at times. Ehart was a decent drummer in his prime, able to handle the shifting rhythms with aplomb but never as gifted as, say, Phil Collins. Here, he sounds tired and chooses to gloss over the detail on many of the original drum parts.
What does it all *mean*?
Listening to ‘Journey from Mariabronn’ again on this disc, I’m reminded they did some really good long-form compositions that mark them out as the best of the few US bands that could be compared with their UK prog peers. Those who bought the Best of Kansas because they liked Carry On… and Dust In The Wind probably missed that point, which is why Kansas get lumped in with the pomp rock bands like Boston and Styx.
I had hoped for a large dollop of nostalgia listening to them play Leftoverture, which takes up disc 2. It was OK, but I felt I was listening to a tribute band. If you don’t have the originals, this is not the place to start. Get a copy of Leftoverture and the original live album, Two For The Show.
Goes well with…
If you want to investigate further, the albums either side of Leftoverture – Song For America and Point of Know Return – are worth checking out.
Might suit people who like…
If you like bands like Transatlantic, The Flower Kings or Big Big Train, you’ll find something to appreciate in the longer-form pieces such as Journey From Mariabronn, Icarus: Born on Wings of Steel and Miracles Out of Nowhere.