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Kansas - Somewhere to Elsewhere CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.50 | 272 ratings

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Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
3 stars The year 2000 saw the return of the original line-up of Kansas, the first time they had recorded a studio album together since 'Audio-Visions' in 1980. Even though several incarnations of the band continued to record albums, the original line-up of Steve Walsh, Kerry Livgren, Rich Williams, Dave Hope, Phil Ehart and Robby Steinhardt didn't reunite until the release of Kansas' 14 studio album 'Somewhere to Elsewhere'. For this album, Billy Greer was also along, even though he was not in that classic line-up, he had been in the band since 1985.

The entire band recorded at Kerry's studio, all except for Walsh, who tracked his vocals in his home studio. The line up featured Walsh on lead vocals on 7 out of 11 of the tracks and the vocals were his only contribution to the album. Livgren composed all of the tracks and played guitars and keyboards, produced and mixed the album and sings on the hidden track at the end. Steinhardt played violin and viola and sang lead vocals on 3 tracks. Rich Williams played guitar and helped produce the album. Dave Hope plays bass on only 2 of the tracks while Bill Greer provides bass on the remainder of them and sings lead vocals on 1 of them. Phil Ehart provides the drums and acts as producer.

So, hopes were high for this album because it was to be a return to the classic prog sound of the original band. Many fans had given up on hearing that classic sound again, but the band was out to give them one more surprise. 'Icarus II' hints to the return to form with a 'continuation' of their masterpiece from the 'Song for America' album. From the opening strains, you can hear the familiar sounds of the band that once was. The sound is a bit cleaner than before, and Walsh's vocals are a bit strained, but not so much as you might expect since he still has a lot of power behind them, maybe a touch more gruffness. Little snippets of melodies are borrowed from the original Icarus song, but as it moves into the instrumental break, the guitar gives us a heavier sound than what we had before, but the lovely violin parts are there to remind us that who the band used to be. There is also more of a progressive edge to the music than what we have heard for a while, and that is great, but it's not quite as complex as it once was. But it is by far better than what we have heard from the since 'Point of No Return'.

We're on our way, and the harder edge continues in 'When the World was Young'. Walsh's vocals seem a bit shakier on this one, especially in the lower registers. His strength is in his mid-range now, as his higher register tends to be a bit blown out. He has to almost scream to get the higher notes out, but granted, its not that bad. This track is a bit more on the accessible, hard-rock side with less progressive sound, but still better than what we have heard lately. The violin, guitar and keys are all restrained and straightforward, not as progressive as the first track. Again, there is a snippet of classic Kansas riffage towards the end that the fans will recognize. 'Grand Fun Alley' features Steinhardt on lead vocals. His voice sounds very much like it used to, just not as sure of itself, but the music seems lightweight for his voice. Again, this track is also straitforward compared to the band's glory days, but the guitar solo is pretty good, but the synths are unconvincing, and it all comes across as sounding like Styx's attempts at a comeback. 'The Coming Dawn (Thanatopsis)' brings Walsh back to the mic for a slower, ballad-like track with piano and violin accompanying him at first, and then bringing the band in later. The track is decent enough, but, again, it is a bit straightforward. There is that uplifting feel to it, similar to 'The Wall' from Leftoverture, lovely and passionate, with nice build in the instrumental section. However, it starts to droop a bit just before the vocals come back in. It's a good one for lovers of the heartrending side of the band.

With the longer run time (+ 8 minutes), there is hope that this track is more on the progressive side like the opening track. It starts off slow and rhapsodic at first, but then the band comes in and builds the music and sounding like something from 'Point of No Return', there are hints of progressiveness there, the song structure a little more complex, but still leaning towards the hard-rock sound. The best part comes along halfway through when it goes into the instrumental break, and things get more complex, and the nod to the jazz sound is a nice surprise. However, the band's attempt to scat (?) is a bit cringe-worthy. It's not bad, but it's not at the level of their best work. 'Look at the Time' features Greer on the vocals as he gets to tie the two sides of the band together, the old and the new. This one is a bit weak though, the background singers sounding like they don't really want to be there. The middle instrumental section is not too bad as it sounds a bit symphonic and the violin and guitar try to save the track.

'Disappearing Skin Tight Blues' brings back Robby on the vocals. A violin introduction starts things off, but soon gets replaced by the blues riffage that seem to accompany his vocals most of the time. This time, his vocals prove he is more sure of himself again. It's a bit bright on the chorus, however, for a blues song, but it's kind of fun anyway, bringing a more carefree side to the album. It turns out to not be as corny as you might think, and Steinhardt is more convincing on the more blues- driven tracks anyway. It's a good track, just not progressive as much as it is nostalgic, and it fits well on the album. 'Distant Vision' is a better return to form like the first track on this album, and one with a decent runtime to prove it. It has a long introduction before Walsh's vocals come in and a good amount of complexity in the tricky meters. Once again, the time is used well here, the composition is great and you get an excellent reminder of the great band that used to be. For the first time in a long time, Robby shares the lead vocal work as he sings in the middle section, and this is the best he sounds on this album. This is a definite highlight of the album.

'Byzantium' begins with a choir singing and the low strains of a viola. This sparse intro brings in Walsh's vocals for something that is completely different for Kansas, and its good to hear them try out a different sound, not always trying to copy themselves. It's a nice change of pace and a pleasant surprise. 'Not Man Big' finishes it all off with a pretty good rocker that moves through various tempo shifts, gives the organ a chance to shine, and utilizes the viola and guitar together well, and even has time for a short, blistering violin solo that you wish was longer. The ending is a lot weaker than it should be though, as it just kind of takes up space. There is a short, hidden track called 'Geodesic Dome' which features Livgren doing some rare vocalization. It's a low-fi track that is supposed to be humorous, I suppose.

Overall, it's a pretty good attempt at bringing back the classic line-up one more time, but, other than 3 great tracks (Icarus II, Disappearing Skin Tight Blues, Distant Vision), and a few surprises here and there, it still doesn't quite match up to their best work. It's worth a listen, and many fans tend to give it rave reviews, but doesn't quite hit the mark for me. The best tracks on here do a decent job of recovering their original sound, but it would have been nice to hear the band's take on some updated progressive styles and not revert so much to the more popular hard-rock style that it does too often on the album. And the real complexity of the music isn't there anymore either, though it does come close in a few places. It's worth picking up, anyway, at least from a fan's perspective, but don't pay a lot of money for it. At least it's better than what they have done for a while. 3 stars.

TCat | 3/5 |


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