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Kansas - Sail On: The 30th Anniversary Collection 1974-2004 CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.18 | 33 ratings

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4 stars There are about five Kansas collections available today that attempt to capture the history of the band. The Best of Kansas from 1984 gathers up most of the hits from the first nine studio albums; the 1994 two-disc boxed set was created in collaboration with their fan club and includes some rare song versions and a biography booklet; the 1997 Definitive Collection includes some b-sides and live versions, but leaves out some of the more progressive early songs; and 2002’s Ultimate Kansas is another two-disc set that includes almost everything on the previous collections. Finally, Works in Progress releases this month and includes only tracks from their later years (post 1983).

In 2004 Epic released yet another one - Sail On: the 30th Anniversary Collection, marking the band’s three decades of existence. They haven’t technically been together for 30 years, as the group did disband between late 1983 and 1986, but that is probably just splitting hairs. The unique claim of this collection is that it includes tracks from each of the band’s 14 studio albums, beginning with “Can I Tell You” from the self-titled debut in 1974, and ending with “Icarus II” from 2000’s Somewhere to Elsewhere (plus one track from the platinum-selling Two For the Show double-live album).

While the song selection has been the subject of a fair amount of discussion amongst Kansas fans, this does represent the best single retrospective of their entire body of work. The packaging is quite good, with the two CDs housed in a hard-cover booklet that includes a full listing of composers, producers, recording studios and dates, and the performers for each track. All the mixes are remastered from their originally released recordings, and there are some interesting photos of the band members, concerts, and various other paraphernalia from their many years together, including a couple of concert t-shirts and promotional gadgets that I wish I still had.

There is also a video DVD included in the collection, and this is by far the most interesting part of the package. There are five videos from their two early appearances on Don Krishner’s Rock Concert in 1974 and 1975, plus eight promotional videos from the early MTV days, covering songs from Point of Know Return, Monolith, Vinyl Confessions, Drastic Measures, and Power. There are also three film/animation live videos from the 2002 Device-Voice-Drum DVD release.

The Kirshner recordings are especially great, as they show the group at their earliest and most vibrant state as a true band, and most of these recordings have not been seen except in bootlegged form since their original recordings more than thirty years ago. The producers did an excellent job of restoring these to reasonable quality, and I have played them many times over the past couple of years without tiring of them yet.

Some of the better selections for inclusion in this package are the original studio version of “Can I Tell You” from their debut album; “Cheyenne Anthem” from Leftoverture, which has been left off of most of their many previous collections and live albums; “The Pinnacle” from Masque, which is one of my three all-time favorite Kansas tunes and one of their most disregarded gems; “What’s on my Mind” from Leftoverture, another overlooked classic; the totally awesome “Lamplight Symphony” from Song for America, which has long been forgotten in the shadow of that album’s title track; and “Desperate Times” from the almost forgotten Freaks of Nature. Clearly Phil Ehart and company have a strong finger on the pulse of their fans, and have acquiesced to the long-standing desires to see these songs included in a single package.

What’s missing? Well, lots of things. Although there are four videos from Monolith, only “People of the South Wind” is included in the audio tracks, and there are no videos from Leftoverture at all. There are also no live video tracks from the years 1976-2002. For a band that pretty much made their careers and reputations through non-stop touring, this is an unforgivable oversight. Also, one could quibble with the choices from the later studio albums, and particularly “Fight Fire with Fire” from Drastic Measures (should have been “Incident on a Bridge” instead); “Rainmaker” from In the Spirit of Things (hello?! – “House on Fire”? “Bells of Saint James”?); “Eleanor Rigby” from Always Never the Same (uh, anything but that); or “Icarus II” from Somewhere to Elsewhere.

In the case of “Icarus II” I agree with it being included, but considering that this was their last studio album, that it included the entire original band lineup and all original new songs, and that it was CRIMINALLY under-promoted by Magna Carta, there should have been at least a couple more songs included – “Myriad”, “The Coming Dawn (Thanatopsis) ”, or even better – “Byzantium”. I still choose to believe that Somewhere to Elsewhere is a platinum album in the waiting (hey, it could happen – look how long some of their early albums took to catch hold).

Also, the DVD includes some interesting new interview material with all the original members, but this too could have been much improved by including some meaningful material from Steve Morse, Greg Robert, and David Ragsdale, and more than two sentences from the famously inconspicuous Steve Walsh.

All the hits are here – “Song for America”, “Carry on Wayward Son”, “Dust in the Wind”, “Point of Know Return”, “Portrait (He Knew)”, “People of the South Wind”, “Fight Fire with Fire”, “Hold On”, “Play the Game Tonight”, and “All I Wanted”, plus most of the important early progressive works (with those exceptions previously noted). One other omission – “Incomudro – Hymn to the Atman” should have been here either as an audio or (preferably) a video track, but since it does run about thirteen minutes, I understand why the band passed on it.

All things considered, this is a great collection, and a beautifully packaged set. I have to believe the label will eventually offer just the DVD separately since there are no new songs or mixes on the audio CDs, and many fans will not likely lay down $35 USD (or equivalent) like I did to pick this up.

If you don’t have any other Kansas collection, or if you want a comprehensive picture of the band that includes both audio and video, as well as printed biographies and interviews, this is about the only place you’ll get it all in one shot. I think that this collection, combined with the Works in Progress collection just hitting the stores now (which dives deeper into the band’s less-known later years from 1983-1998), will give anyone who is interested in Kansa but who is not a die-hard fan, a chance to get all the Kansas they need without having to hunt down fourteen studio albums, five live ones, and at least that many collections. Die-hard fans, of course, have all the Kansas albums already, and have probably picked this one up anyway.

The rating for Sail On is easy – this is an excellent addition to any progressive music collection, so four stars it is.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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