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Proto-Kaw - The Wait Of Glory CD (album) cover

THE WAIT OF GLORY

Proto-Kaw

 

Symphonic Prog

3.60 | 88 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
5 stars Wow! Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Proto-Kaw’s latest work takes a quantum leap into new territory, out of the past and into what is hopefully the future of progressive musical art. The Wait of Glory was worth the wait, and at least for me has exceeded whatever expectations I may have had of the band. I have to believe that anyone giving this album an objective listen will find something to like about it. The arrangements are brilliant and well-crafted and the musicianship is easily the best of their three efforts to-date. I can already tell this is going to be a long review – sorry, my bad.

The band has made a few small adjustments to the lineup, but these have paid huge dividends in their sound. Brad Schulz is out on drums, replaced by Kansas City native Mike Patrum. Kerry Livgren’s nephew Jake has also been added as the official seventh member of the band. Jake Livgren brings with him not only his three-generation musical pedigree, but also an impressive multi-instrument talent that includes guitar, saxophone, a variety of percussive gadgets, and a pretty good voice to boot. The result is a band that is polished, vibrant, and capable of producing some incredibly rich sounds. These guys are without a doubt a musical force to be reckoned with. Each track is an adventure, and after four months and at least a hundred listens, I can say with confidence that there is very little fluff or wasted space in this 70 minute offering.

The opening track is “Nevermore”, a nearly ten minute long work with an attention- grabbing lead-in that features Kerry’s fierce guitar offset by John Bolton’s flute and Patrum’s take-charge drums setting an appropriately proggy tempo. Lynn Meredith continues to impress with his vocal interpretations of Kerry’s lyrics. Meredith has one of those voices that command attention with its richness rather than by overpowering with volume or ear-piercing range. This guy is going to end up as a featured guest on some big artist’s next studio album, methinks. The chorus features a two-vocal round with (I believe) Jake Livgren providing the backing voice. The band actually has three solid vocalists as bassist Craig Kew also sings backing throughout the album. Kerry sings too, but note that I did say “solid” vocalists. Around the middle of the song the entire band cuts loose with about a three minute instrumental sortie featuring Dan Wright on multiple Hammonds, Livgren alternating between guitar and keyboards, and Kew basically going nuts on bass. Kew didn’t really stand out much on the band’s previous album, but here he clearly establishes himself as a major part of the band’s overall sound both in setting the tempo, and with his vocal contributions. Eventually Meredith and Jake Livgren wander back with a closing chorus, and Kerry takes us out with another impressive spider-web of guitar work. Lyrically this is another one of Kerry Livgren’s ‘Thank God I’m a Christian Boy” themes, but very tasteful and more of a celebratory expression of his own faith and not the kind of preachy condemnation of the unwashed hordes that some of his early solo work tended towards. Livgren seems to have finally come to the realization that the Christian walk is more about being a living example than it is about trying to scare the crap out of people. Overall this is a top-rate work that can hold its own with the best progressive music being created today.

There is no letup on “Relics of the Tempest”, and actually Meredith manages to stretch his range quite a bit on this one without sacrificing anything in tone or emotion. This is another “Left Behind” second-coming story –

“They said they knew the reason, the experts all agreed.

Life will manifest in due season, it’s been decreed”

and the tempo reflects the somber and menacing feeling that such an event would likely engender in those in the ‘behind’ category. The lead-in and tempo are rather similar to “Nevermore”, but here the band skips the extended-play instrumentals and gets right to the point. There is also quite a bit more emphasis on vocals here with Meredith’s lead being augmented by both Livgren’s and Kew on the chorus. Instead of an extended instrumental bridge in the middle, there is simply a short contribution by Bolton on flute. Of all the songs on the album, this is the one that seems to have an ever-so-slight Ritchie Blackmore bombastic rock feel to it which I suppose is not surprising considering the average age of the band members and their inevitable influences.

The layered backing vocals interspersed with Bolton’s flute continue on “When the Rains Come”. While the previous song was heavily focused on vocals and guitar, on “Rains” Wright asserts himself on keyboards quite a bit, including a very nicely done interaction with Bolton on flute toward the middle of the work. Patrum spends quite a bit of time above the rim on drums, which actually comes off nicely given the somewhat somber tone of the song, and Kew wanders off amusing himself (and the listener) on bass again. I have to believe that there was a fair amount of collaboration in the studio as the band members learned the parts Livgren had written for them and added their own interpretations, because this doesn’t sound nearly as tight and precise as what Livgren’s compositions usually come off like. In this case this is a very good thing, because the result is very rich in instrumentation, varied in tempo, and unique in sound. Listen to this and to “Skont” from the first album for a very good view into what this band’s overall musical thumbprint sounds like.

The message in “On the Eve of the Great Decline” should be evident from its title. Musically this sounds a bit closer to “Leaven” and “Axolotl” from the band’s second album. There are actually at least four major tempo changes here, although the song itself is only a bit over four minutes. Wright seems to fade into the background a bit here again, in favor of Bolton and Livgren. There is definitely a stronger emphasis on guitar with this album than on the previous two.

Livgren actually manages to surprise with “Physic”, one of the very few songs he’s written in the past quarter-century that isn’t dealing directly with either salvation or with the threat of the alternative. This is an introspective work that speaks to our innate yearning to understand what came before us, and what the past means to the present and to the future. This was probably also meant to point to Livgren’s version of the holy grail, but it’s abstract enough to be relevant even to those who don’t share his views on that point. Wright takes his turn to go nuts on this one, with some keyboard scales that can only be described as funky. Daryl Batchelor (another Kansas native) guests on trumpet and flugelhorn, giving the song a bit of an overall jazzy feel that is complemented by Kew and Patrum’s tempo. One thing that should be noted about this band that distinguishes them from the vast majority of American progressive artists – this is not a blues-dominated band. Sure, there’s some influence evident, particularly in much of Livgren’s guitar work, but there are far more jazz/fusion tendencies throughout than there are Robert Johnson tributes. These guys may have come out of that generation of 60s and 70s American blues rockers, but they have clearly created some distance between that past and their current artistic leanings.

“At Morning’s Gate” is a short work that opens with a peaceful flute/piano arrangement (most likely Livgren on piano), and overall this sounds like the kind of song that could easily be sung around a campfire to an acoustic guitar at summer church camp, which it undoubtedly will be. Musically this is an interesting change of tempo, and suggests the band may have the sensibility and capacity in them to produce a ballad-like work in the future.

Jake Livgren provides the lead vocal on “Melicus Gladiator”, and my goodness – this guy is a bit of a rocker! His voice has a very edgy sound to it that isn’t as comfortable to listen to as Meredith’s, but sometimes that a good thing. The tempo here is fast but not at all labored, showing that these guys still have plenty of gas left in their tanks. The trifecta of Wright’s keyboards, Kew’s bass and Patrum’s drums are never stronger than on this track, and combined with Jake’s voice offer a whole new dimension to the band. These guys have a whole pile of weapons they have yet to explore, and this song shows that this is starting to dawn on them. Expect many more creative surprises on their next studio work.

If I didn’t know better (and I don’t) I’d say that “The Vigil” is part two of the old epic Livgren wrote for Kansas some thirty years ago – “The Wall”. Check out the lyrics for yourself and draw your own conclusion. Meredith outdoes himself on vocals here, with a shockingly earnest, almost pleading cry of a chorus –

“There’s a love so amazing, it’s a life that turns the tide;

this elusive thing we’re chasing, is the one to stand beside”.

This is another ballad candidate, with Livgren again on piano and Bolton on flute, along with three singers jointly achieving a two-part harmony. Very nice.

Batchelor is back on trumpet for “Old Number 63” with another funk-influenced number. I’ve read the lyrics for this song numerous times, and have come to the conclusion that this is Livgren’s equivalent of the old Foreigner tune “Juke Box Hero” –

Livgren: “He wanders on the sidewalk, he daydreams in the street. He can’t keep it together, no rhythm to his beat. The morning turns to evening, the evening turns to night. The darkness feels so empty, with no relief in sight”.

Foreigner: “Standing in the rain, in a heavy downpour; thought he’d passed his own shadow, by the backstage door. Like a truck through the past, that day in the rain – and that one guitar, made his whole life change”.

Livgren’s life-answer is different of course, but the similar theme strikes me when I hear this one. Heavy drums and lots of percussion along with the brass result in showing yet another dimension to the band.

“Osvaldo’s Groceries” is an instrumental (if you don’t count a few words of shouted dialog from time to time), and the most unique thing in this band’s catalog. This is nothing but a jam session, and it showcases just how well these guys all fit together. This will without a doubt be played live – a lot.

The band returns to more familiar territory with “Picture This”, a multi-tempo’d work with characteristic soaring guitars from Livgren, but also some very rich bass and Jake Livgren throwing in a number of small percussive efforts, including bongos and tambourine. Meredith resorts to a little bit of studio vocal manipulation here, but about the time you notice it Wright kicks in with some tasty keyboards and the transgression is forgotten.

The album finally winds down with “One Fine Day (I’ll be There)”, a final gaze-toward- heaven message from Livgren. This one actually surprises me with it’s heavily 70s feel, reminiscent of much of the music on Livgren’s 1981 solo debut Seeds of Change. Kew outdoes himself on bass, and the melodic, multi-faceted vocal arrangements call to mind 70s bands like Orleans, Gred Kihn, and John Hall. This is just a flat-out feel-good rocker, complete with alto saxophone, rolling drums, and an upbeat tempo. A great mood to end the album on, and clearly another concert staple to come.

The special-edition boxed-set includes a twenty minute DVD from a 2005 concert with two songs off their second album and “Skont” from their 2002 recreated collection. While we old farts sometimes rant on about the postage-stamp artwork and sterile packaging of CDs compared to the ‘good old days’ of vinyl, I have to say that I am fast growing to appreciate the value and power of the bonus DVDs that come with much of today’s music. There is no substitute for seeing a band live, and if you can’t a few lives videos is almost as good as being there. The 70s had nothing on those discs, and kudos to labels like Inside-Out and Magna Carta that are doing this more and more now. Let’s just hope this becomes the expected norm, and not something that will serve only to drive prices up even more.

About the only thing these guys haven’t accomplished yet is a theme-based album or an epic, so look for that in their future. Until then I plan to check them out live. I’m traveling to Melvern Kansas this summer to attend Dogstock, where Proto-Kaw is scheduled to play. All of my kids want to go too. That’s the mark of a band that is creating music that is not only progressive, but also accessible. You gotta’ love that.

The Wait of Glory is an album that I believe will offer some appeal to just about anybody who picks it up, and I think most who hear it will add it to their heavy CD player rotation. Five stars and my best wishes to Proto-Kaw for a long and fruitful career.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 5/5 |

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