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Kansas - Leftoverture CD (album) cover

LEFTOVERTURE

Kansas

 

Symphonic Prog

4.21 | 659 ratings

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4 stars Every now and then I like to rifle through the bargain bins and pull out an LP with a promising looking cover and buy it just for the sake of it. "Leftoverture" was one such purchase, and I pulled the cans on, cranked up the volume, and waited for the torrents of cheesey Spinal Tap related drivel to spew forth.

Instead, for my 1, I got the shock of my life - a bona fide Prog Rock album, with fewer similarities to Boston than I was expecting, and more similarities to Gentle Giant!!

I found flavours of every classic Prog Rock band bar Jethro Tull in here, which you might think would make it sound awfully derivative - but the truth is, that it's in no way awful, and only really slightly derivative - there's a unique "Kansas" vibe running through the entire album.

Don't get me wrong, "Leftoverture" is not in the same league or even vein as GG or the "Classics" (except for "Magnum Opus"), it is closer in sound to Boston, the songs rarely stretch beyond 5 minutes; It's not a pure Prog Rock album, but it's about as close to Prog Rock as you're going to get on the West side of the Atlantic during the 1970s, and a worthy investment of your hard-earned Prog tokens.

A very strong 4 Stars - an excellent addition to any collection of Prog Rock, if only for "Magnum Opus" and "Miracles Out of Nowhere". There are other worthy moments here too - but for those, you're going to have to read the long bits :0)

A vocal intro strongly reminiscent of Styx leads to a strong section of riffola and soloing with tasty organ undercurrents, and multiple riff and texture changes. When the verse starts, we're in a new melodic territory that has flavours of Uriah Heep. A strongly constructed song emerges - standard rock format, but cleverly disguised with piano and vocal layers, then a well constructed bridge in an A-B-A-C-A format seguing back to the chorus featuring rhythmic variants - that's what I mean by well constructed. There's nothing majorly new about the riffing, but it all has that spontaneous and organic feel that comes about when the entire song is concieved from a single base of ideas and then had plenty of improv worked in.

"The Wall" is nothing like anything on the Pink Floyd album - indeed, when it kicked in, I thought for a second or two that I might be listening to a long-lost Fish-era Marillion number - there are a vew similarities, especially in the early emotional guitar solo, that carry a flavour of "Forgotten Sons". There's a nice folky flavour underpinning this song, heightened by a violin. Little flavours of Genesis drift through, but ultimately the feel of this song is of a very well constructed ballad with prog-style textures, and it's all a little too "pleasant" for my taste. The MGM ending just seals this one.

"What's on My Mind" is a Boston-style rocker... although I have to concede that "Leftoverture" predates Boston... Imagine Free or Bad Company with added organ and you're nearly there. There's an odd change halfway through which seems to hint at "Boogie Nights", and I'm left a little uneasy about the overall construction here. What is on the mind of the writer???

The first song over 5 minutse, "Miracles out of nowhere" is much more like it, as far as Prog Rock is concerned - if up to now you had, like me, felt that this isn't really a Prog album, this song is one that will change your mind, despite the slightly cheesey chorus. The violin continues the folk-like flavour, and the swirls of organ combined with the "tough" bass sound drive the music forwards in a kind of Yes style, but with better vocals. The real piece of prog starts with the fugue that suddenly pipes up - all instruments partaking, with multiple organ and string sounds creating a dense texture that hides the time signatures very well - multiple listens are required to work these out, so I'll leave that to those who care... This is just brilliant Prog Rock of the finest quality, and is what really surprised me about this album. The other surprise is that not only is this great quality Prog, but the melodies are strong too - always a tricky thing to achieve when you're working with complex material.

Miracles out of nowhere? Yeah - that works!

Flipping the vinyl over, I'm now charged up for more of this - the Rock is hugely enjoyable, and the Prog more than just a bonus - it's really good.

"Opus Insert" continues with the flavours of Yes with good vocals - although admittedly, the harmonies are fairly weak. The time changes are nice, and the textures are great - the sudden move to Zappa-like textures is a great and welcome surprise, although the perfect cadences with flourishes spoil the effect. We are later treated to a swirling organ section (Mmmm), that segues into a Moog-led reprise of the main tune - all too briefly, sadly.

Not so solidly in Prog territory, "Questions of my childhood" feels like a kind of Prog- flavoured hit single, and is a bit "more of the same", in that it solidifies the style of this album, which otherwise might be feeling a little inconsistent, with the swinging back and forwards between standard rock and Prog. The violin solo is particularly notable, and I like the way it's picked up by the keyboard.

"Cheyenne anthem" probably carries the cheesiest lyrics on the entire album - and begins more strongly in the folk-style flavour. A piano-driven section follows - and I can't help but be mystified, as I fail to relate the instrumental textures with the words. The tunes are strong, though, and I particularly like the children's choir, that is beautifully picked up by vibes and violin and driven into a passage that carries a strong Gentle Giant flavour... until it goes pear-shaped, with an Oom-pah bass line driving some terribly noodling solos. This has stronger flavours of Barnum than Cheyenne Indians, in truth. We kind of forgive Kansas with some of the stronger proggy material that goes in here, but it's all a kind of random pastiche, weakly linked by thematic ideas, then a recapitulated intro, with out-of-tune female (or possibly falsetto) solo - quite nasty. The musical development that follows, though, is actually quite good.

And finally "Magnum Opus" - the 8 and a half minuter that I've been waiting for.

This begins strongly in Prog Rock territory, with a large sound with great washes of keyboard, leading to a bass solo that seems oddly out of place - in a Krautrock kind of way, but the vibes that follow seem to bring the focus back. Talking of Focus, an Akkerman-style solo brings us to the verse, and all is Prog textures, lush sounds... and lyrics about music. This segues into an ELP(without the boxing gloves) flavoured riff, with the violin creating new and exciting textures. Kansas pull out all the stops and really get into the Prog rock groove with this - it's a pity, in a way, that this is the streaming mp3 on this site, as it really is the very best and most proggy track on the entire album - a superb work that lives up to its auspicious title very well.

Marimbas and picked guitar with washes of Hammond and rich bass bring another beautiful texture exploration to the fore - I'm reminded of King Crimson here somehow - and the music builds to a sharply angular guitar solo full of dive-bombing and other goodies...

Why am I writing about this track - listen to the streaming mp3!!!

If you like the mp3, buy the album (as cheaply as you can).

If you don't like the mp3, you don't like Prog.

:o)

Certif1ed | 4/5 |

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