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Steve Walsh - Schemer Dreamer  CD (album) cover

SCHEMER DREAMER

Steve Walsh

 

Crossover Prog

2.30 | 26 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars The first comment to be made about this album is that there really isn't anything about it that can be considered progressive. Its very existence is a direct result of Steve Walsh's desire to pave a mainstream path for himself away from his roots as the prolific keyboardist and highly regarded lead singer of Kansas. It is noteworthy that the only track that even approaches a progressive feel ("You Think You Got It Made") is the one song where Walsh is accompanied by his (soon to be former) Kansas band mate and creative nemesis Kerry Livgren. The other song that is a bit of a departure for Walsh musically, though not lyrically, is "Wait Until Tomorrow", where he is also accompanied by a Kansas band mate, in this case lead guitarist Rich Williams.

The remainder of this short record is nearly an EP, with only seven tracks and clocking in at around 37 minutes. The lyrics are purely working class southern blues-influenced rock, so it's not surprising that Walsh's supporting cast included Dixie Dregs veterans Steve Morse, Allen Sloan, and Jeff Lux. The music is technically proficient, but it lacks the cohesive sense of purpose that most of the earlier Kansas work demonstrated. This was the music Walsh was dying to go make when he settled for penning the underachieving "Got To Rock On", "Anything for You", and "Back Door" tracks for his studio swan-song with the band (Audio-Visions) the same year. He would be back with the band by the time "Power" released in 1986, but by then Livgren and Dave Hope were gone, the band was not the same and would release only three subsequent studio albums of new material over the next twenty years. The growing chasm between Livgren and Walsh was becoming readily apparent to fans even during the tour supporting the Monolith release in 1979, and it's worth noting that all the songs on Schemer-Dreamer were written by Walsh between 1978 and 1979 (with the exception of his rendition of the honky-tonk standard "That's All Right"), which was the same time the band was on the road supporting Point of Know Return and Monolith and putting together the tracks for Audio-Visions. On both of these albums it is quite easy for fans to differentiate between the tracks written by Livgren, and those written by Walsh. Several tracks on Schemer-Dreamer were likely even considered and rejected by the band when Monlith and Audio-Visions were being created (or were held back by Walsh).

The album has its moments, to be sure. "Every Step of the Way" showcases Steve Walsh's unequaled vocal range and power, and has been a personal favorite of mine for well over two decades. It's still a straight-ahead rock song, but I can just picture in my head the brief satisfaction Walsh must have felt as he belted out his own words, with his own backing band, during his own studio sessions, for his own album. Must have been a real rush at the time. But even here the lyrics show him being inexorably drawn back to his Kansas connections. Lyrics like "I had all the questions, I wanted the answers" would undoubtedly have become another Kansas classic if they'd had the advantage of Livgren's arrangements, Ehart's drum thunder, Hope's pulsating bass line, and Rich William's masterful guitar chords to accompany them. As it turned out, this is a decent but not great song that is a gross underutilization of one of prog's great vocal natural talents.

"Schemer-Dreamer", the opening track, is a sort tale of a smug hick who apparently can only come up with a dollar to pay for the hooker he has gone to visit, and Walsh seems to be expressing distain and contempt for the baseless cockiness of the kid. The track transitions (for no apparent reason) into "That's All Right", the 1940's honky-tonk song made famous by Elvis Presley a couple of decades prior.

"Get Too Far", the next track, has a very mixed message about a blue- collar "everyman" who again, Walsh seems to be showing some contempt for. This isn't too puzzling I suppose, since Walsh's public persona has long been one of a person who seems to be easily irritated and impatient, but I'm not sure what he thought the song was supposed to accomplish, other than offend his largely blue-collar fan base. Every time I hear this song I think of Styx' "Blue Collar Man", the difference being in that song the working stiff clearly had the empathy of the band. One interesting note about this song is that the lead guitarist is the young David Bryson, who if memory serves me would surface again a dozen years later as the guitarist for Counting Crows.

"So Many Nights" and "Just How it Feels" are softer, slower, and introspective. The first is a love song of sorts, while the second recalls with apparent fondness the simple yet strong nature of his grandparents. Nothing really wrong with either song, just nothing about them that's worth pointing out either.

"You Think You Got It Made" is musically a bit closer to the richer, broader sound that suits his voice so well, and has a couple of small segues and time changes that at least make it moderately interesting. Here again though, the message is rather depressing (and perhaps prophetic), about a man who is struggling to 'make hay while the sun shines' so to speak, trying to cash in on his fifteen minutes of fame. Autobiographical, perhaps?

The album closes with "Wait Until Tomorrow", which features some fine and expansive drum work by fellow Kansas member Phil Ehart, but is otherwise somewhat kitschy and predictable, fading tune. I've read the lyrics, and it's either an anti-war song, or is about a guy who has a hangover. Maybe both. Clearly there's a war mentioned, and it appears the singer is somehow engaged in it. Perhaps the war is with what caused the hangover. Who knows.

One final note about the album cover, which has been the subject of much derision over the years. Yes, Walsh is seen wearing 80's-style athletic shorts ad no shirt, as well as kneepads and athletic shoes. Those who saw Kansas in summer concerts back then know that he often dressed this way for concerts, partly because he usually covered every square inch of the stage jumping around during the show, and also because he had this neat trick where he could do a handstand on top of his keyboards with one hand, and continue to play with the other. Hey, at least he believed in putting on a good show. And I can honestly say I never saw him during the 80's in pastel or parachute pants, so things could have been much worse.

All in all, Schemer-Dreamer easily qualifies for "Collectors/fans only" status based solely on its historical value to Kansas, Walsh, Dixie Dregs, and apparently Counting Crows fans. It clearly doesn't rise to the level of "Excellent addition to any prog music collection" since there really isn't anything specifically prog about it beyond the pedigree of Walsh and some of the other performers. So I guess that leaves what's in the middle, so three stars it is.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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