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Steve Walsh - Glossolalia  CD (album) cover

GLOSSOLALIA

Steve Walsh

 

Crossover Prog

3.44 | 62 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars This is a tough album for Kansas fans to listen to, and even for fans of Walsh’s work outside the band. For those of us who have also seen him live in the past few years it is somewhat heart-wrenching to see (and hear) how time and abuse have ravaged his once formidable abilities.

On the other hand, the album also represents some of the most energetic and passionate work he has committed to tape since the eighties, so in that respect it’s a record that can’t be ignored by fans. Walsh recorded ‘Glossolalia’ at the same time the original Kansas lineup was gathered together for the first time in nearly two decades at Kerry Livgren’s Berryton, Kansas studio laying down the tracks for the unexpected and wonderful ‘Somewhere to Elsewhere’. The Steve Walsh contributions to that album consisted primarily of remotely-recorded vocal tracks mailed to Livgren to be mixed into the final package, and the lack of proximity to the rest of the band can be heard at times throughout the finished product. The fact that Livgren supplied all the keyboard tracks speaks volumes as to where Walsh’s energies were being applied at the turn of the century.

For this solo album Walsh was ‘all there’ though, both literally and figuratively. The voice is not (and never will be) what it once was, but Walsh is a consummate performer when he wants to be, and it’s clear he wanted to be when these songs were recorded with the help of Magellan founder and studio wizard Trent Gardner. The sound is more neo-progressive metal for the most part than the symphonic- tinged classics of Kansas’ seventies sound. But this is to be expected from the guy who walked away from one of the most lucrative gigs of the seventies to launch a rather ill-fated career as a hard-rocker with Streets and as a solo artist.

But no matter how hard Walsh may try, he can’t escape his roots, even here with Gardner applying copious helpings of neo-prog studio wizardry to the mix. The opening title track owes apparent and heavy debts to Gardner’s influence with its synthesized strings (and possibly horns as well, although Gardner is credited with playing trombone on the album).

“Serious Wreckage” is a more subdued and quite dark number, altogether not unlike the more somber moments on the Steve Morse-fronted version of Kansas on 1988’s ‘In the Spirit of Things”. This is a story about a guy who wipes out a kid in a drunk-driving accident and is dealing with the aftermath. That makes it sort of the reverse-view of Salem Hill’s ‘Robbery of Murder’, which released shortly before this album. Walsh was coming out of a period in his life where he had wrapped his own vehicle around poles in a stupor a couple of times and been committed to rehab, so there may be a bit of self- loathing in these lyrics. The theme is also not too far removed from the opening track “I Can Fly” from Kansas’ 1995 release ‘Freaks of Nature’. Pretty morbid stuff. You know, for a guy who says he doesn’t dwell on past regrets, Walsh sure has a lot of songs that seem to do just that.

Next up is “Heart Attack”, a nineties-sounding heavy pop-rock tune complete with a dance beat, funky bass line, a glut of harmonizing vocals, soaring synthesized strings and Mike Slamer’s Prince-like guitar shredding. Walsh claims he had 22 songs on the shelf when Gardner approached him about doing this album, and considering he didn’t contribute any of them to ‘Somewhere to Elsewhere’ it’s a bit of a mystery why he felt the need to fill time on the album with this track. He should have had plenty else to choose from.

“Kansas” is not, as I first thought, a tribute to the band that made him famous: instead its a combination of the sentiments of “People of the South Wind” from the 1979 Kansas release ‘Monolith’; native American leanings like ‘Leftoverture’s’ “Cheyenne Anthem”; and the tempo of ‘In the Spirit of Things’ “Bells of Saint James”. In other words not very original, but the worst Walsh could be accused of here is copping the sound of his own band, so you can’t really fault him for that I suppose.

Surprising for me is the track I find to be the most appealing, the brief and understated “Nothing”. Walsh for once is reflective without being self-indulgent, somber but not morbid. And his voice sounds great (primarily because he doesn’t attempt taking it to ranges it will not longer reach). This is a mellow, almost ballad-like tune that casts the once monolithic vocal talent in a great light considering his age and circumstance. Musically the piano and acoustic guitar gives this a Midwestern feel that is all too appropriate for Walsh. A beautiful tune that will undoubtedly be included if Walsh ever decides to do a ‘Best of’ or anthology album.

“Haunted Man” is more neo-prog but in a definite Walsh vein and sans nearly any Gardner influence. I would have liked to have heard more like this one on the album, and hope Walsh has more of them on the shelf somewhere to be released in some future effort. The sound is a bit dated, but again the arrangements and tempo fit his voice well and Slamer’s guitar transitions keep the listener engaged without being overpowering.

The first song I ever heard from this album was a promo of “Smackin' the Clowns”, which even then sounded to me more like something that should have been contributed to ‘Somewhere to Elsewhere’. If you’ve heard “Grand Fun Alley” from that album you’ll get an idea of what this one is like. Heavy again, and Slamer is ever-present on guitar, but once more Walsh’s vocals are quite good and not strained, the lyrics are sentimental but not maudlin, and the tempo fits like a comfortable jacket. A bit long, and some of the sound effects border on being just a little bit cheesy, but overall a very decent effort.

I kind of wonder if “That's What Love's all About” was intended to be a single – it has the feel of one with its overly-repetitive lyrics, Billy Idol sneering vocals, and simple timbre. The whistling is a bit off- putting too, but I could have seen this one getting some airplay if the album had managed to receive any kind of promotional support (which it didn’t).

Another track that doesn’t really ring true for Walsh is the bland “Mascara Tears”, again overly garnished with fake strings, plus the vocals have a kind of theatrical, almost Motown feel to them. Not a horrible track, but once more I’m left wondering what the dozen or so songs that didn’t make the album must have sounded like.

And back to the early nineties we go with the closing “Rebecca”, an anthematic tune that may have been seen as a possible live show closing number. Slamer is really the star here.

I’ve had this album for quite a while but only play it occasionally, much like ‘Freaks of Nature’ or ‘In the Spirit of Things’. These three all seem to fit together for me, containing just enough of Kansas and Walsh to be considered authentic but without the ability to transcend the context of the time at which they were recorded. This one is almost by definition a three star effort, and even with the couple of pretty weak tracks I’d recommend it to any Kansas, Walsh or American prog-rock fan.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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