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Proto-Kaw - Forth CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.20 | 65 ratings

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4 stars Despite being a Kerry Livgren fan, I had no idea Proto-Kaw had released a new album until I saw it on the new releases section of the homepage of Prog Archives- last I'd heard, Proto-Kaw had disbanded. And I was further surprised to see they included "Greek Structure Sunbeam," a song from Early Recordings of Kansas 1971-1973, as well as "On the Air (Again)," which I immediately recognized as having something to do with "On the Air," from Livgren's solo album Collector's Sedition. Now Forth is just like its predecessors: Several excellent, wonderful songs among a few commercial blunders. But it would be a mistake to dismiss another admirable Proto-Kaw offering because of a few tracks of insipid filler. Musically, the band sounds as solid as they've always been: John Bolton and Dan Wright add complementary musical textures throughout that make each track shine. The vocals tend to consist of multiple layers throughout, with Lynn Meredith only occasionally singing alone- his is always a welcome voice. It's certainly great to see that Mr. Livgren's stroke had not robbed him of his technical skill or compositional elegance.

"Daylight" I knew right away I was in for a treat the first time I heard this opener. A well-crafted electric guitar riff with appropriate synthesizer accompaniment complete with a memorable vocal melody makes for exciting piece of hard symphonic rock- a great way to kick off what could be viewed as something of a comeback album.

"Pilgrim's Wake" Similar to "Words of Honor" from Before Became After, this second song is a stirring, inspiring, and above-all encouraging acoustic piece with a magnificent chorus. The piano and flute interlude are quite reminiscent of Kansas, very reflective (like the lyrics) and compositionally sound.

"Pollex" Had Rush employed a flute in the 1980s, it may have sounded like the beginning of this track, but soon Proto-Kaw begins sounding like a Kerry Livgren project again, with the Kansas-like vocal harmonies (one can be fooled into detecting Steve Walsh from his heyday in there). Flute and strings descend over a steady bass groove, with plenty of guitar and organ solos to follow.

"Cold And Clear" Lively in the beginning with plenty of flute, electric guitar, and bass interaction, the introduction gives way to slightly sadder piano and vocals before taking off (similar to "Curtain of Iron" on Audio-Visions). Over the organ, Craig Kew gets a bit of a bass solo before a well-structured lofty symphonic transition.

"Lay Down" A song about victory through submission (clear spiritual overtones on this one), "Lay Down" has pleasant music and vocal melodies, but is a tad mawkish, and the saxophone and keyboard solos lack charm or character. Overall, this is a good tune, but it does tend toward a contrived and hokey aspect that Livgren indulges in from time to time.

"Greek Structure Sunbeam" Here is a remake of a song the band did back in the 1970s. Whatever edginess the original had has been rubbed away here; this rendition is even mellower. The soft textures of keyboard and clean guitar, paired with Meredith's soothing voice just drift along pleasantly. It does eventually pick up with a rapid-fire guitar solo in double-time. This is an excellent reinterpretation of a great song.

"On The Air (Again)" Knowing that Livgren occasionally revisits and reinvents earlier works ("Icarus II," "Portrait II," and a few others), I was just as excited to discover what he would do with my favorite song from his solo albums. Unfortunately, "On the Air (Again)" does not live up to the original. The vocalist here, I believe, would be unable to have hit the higher notes in the refrain, and so sings the melody safely. Proto-Kaw does introduce a complex Gentle Giant-like vocal, and the strings are brilliant, but the lack of "soar" on the chorus and the uninspired instrumental section makes this a lackluster revisiting.

"One To Follow" A generic track, this song would be forgettable were it not for the pre-chorus., and the entreating lyrics come off as rather officious. I better appreciate Livgren's more introspective words when compared to his more intrusive second-person lyrics.

"Sleeping Giant" Another nondescript song with bland lyrics and musicianship, this may be the worst of the lot. This tune channels Chicago a wee bit with the brass and vocal harmonies, and the chorus is catchy, but not necessarily in a good way.

"Things We Are Breaking" A somewhat unconventional Proto-Kaw song, this second to last track consists of light, jaunty rock music that includes some electric guitar and flute interplay similar to Jethro Tull (an includes an accordion).

"Utopian Dream" Fortunately, Proto-Kaw ends on a very high note, with fine acoustic guitars and occasional discharges of electric lead. Meredith's warm vocals caress the melody and take it to resonant heights. The final song is well-crafted, capturing the hopefulness that is so pervasive in modern-day Proto-Kaw's consistent discography.

Epignosis | 4/5 |


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