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3 stars I was a little amazed to see a new Proto-Kaw release after the announcement a while ago about the disbanding of the group. Then on top of that the stroke Kerry Livgren had.Things must be going better for the legend. This collection seems to grow on me the more I listen to it. Lyrically Kerry always amazes me how he portrays spirituality without slamming something in your face. He seems to make a lot of sense and brings about good thinking with the subject, without the cheese of other spiritually guided Prog lyricist ( Sorry, not dogging you Neal...I love ya.) Musically Lynn's vocals have never been better and Kerry's nephew also sings and is very good. Sleeping Giant is an odd song that could have been on a Chicago or Doobie Brother's (Michael Mcdonald Era) album. On the Air (Again) is one of my Favorite songs that seems to have a little power to it along with Cold and Clear. Lay It Down seems to be a Mid-Life perspective that really spoke to me, musically it was OK, they seem a little mellower this time out. Overall this CD is more relaxed or just seems to be missing something but it is growing on me, that said they just sound a tad tired on most songs. Perhaps they are just being a little more relaxed with old age and that's fine I guess but my own opinion is that "Before Became After" CD will always be the Highlight from this group.
Report this review (#505414)
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2011 | Review Permalink
1 stars For years, people have argued about the advantages and disadvantages of the CD format over the vinyl format: artwork, sound quality etc. One feature of CDs that makes them very different to vinyls is that they can hold 80 minutes of music, encouraging artists to write more material for their albums. This can be a disadvantage, especially when the artist doesn't write very good material for their albums in the first place. Such is the case of Proto-Kaw.

Proto-Kaw - comprising of Kerry Livgren, Lynn Meredith, John Bolton, Dan Wright, Jake Livgren, Craig Kew and Mike Patrum - is the band that existed prior to the ever-popular Kansas. The name 'Proto-Kaw' combines the Greek prefix meaning 'before' with the Native American word for 'Kansas'. After Livgren released a compilation of tapes chronicling this early version of Kansas entitled 'Proto-Kaw: Early Recordings from Kansas 1971-1973', the old band decided to reform and begin releasing new material. 'Forth' is the band's third studio album, following 2004's 'Before Became After' and 2006's 'The Wait Of Glory'.

Those hoping for a taste of early Kansas music will be bitterly disappointed. The music here is strictly mediocre AOR, with barely a hint of prog. What's more, there's an excruciating 61 minutes of music to sit through divided into eleven mind-numbing songs. Most of the songs are roughly 5' minutes in length, meaning that they are all padded out and take far more of your time than they should. Each song seems incredibly lame, uninspired and unoriginal, with a tired composition style used in each case. My favourite on this album is the loungey Greek Structure Sunbeam, though I can't imagine why I'd listen to it again.

This is the sound of a band that are scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas. It's disappointing to know that five years between albums cannot yield this group anything fresh and original. Unless you enjoy listening to lame, cheesy AOR, I suggest you stay well away from this one.

Report this review (#538681)
Posted Saturday, October 1, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
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.

Report this review (#566325)
Posted Friday, November 11, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars After Kerry Livgren's stroke and a statement that he dissolved Proto-Kaw I had no big expectations to ever see new album from this original Kansas group. It came as a big surprise. Some 40 years since they firstly met together, these guys have all my respect. Music which again makes a pleasant smile on my face all the time.

Joyful, relaxing, dramatic on places however not taking the things very seriously, melodic and memorable. There are again woodwinds and lovely flutes throughout, as well as Livgren's excellent guitar licks, which didn't lose any power with the time. Despite Livgren's religious views, he can usually write lyrics beautifully with spiritual overtones, in the way that people who are not Christians can also easily relate to them (something I wish Neal Morse could do as well).

Lynn Meredith and Jake Livgren are trading the lead within the songs, quite equally - despite Kerry Livgren's nephew is mentioned here as backing vocalist. They're both excellent, soulful, with full, warm voice reminding somehow the power Steve Walsh had in 70s.

There are two tracks which fans of Livgren might be familiar with - new, more sharp version of "On the Air", which I do believe to be better on the Livgren's Collector's Sedition solo album. The other remake, Greek Structure Sunbeam, is very beautiful, however in a bit different way to its raw counterpart from early 70s. Interesting for comparison, it shows how Meredith's voice nicely matured. I'd say compositionally it is more similar to 'Before Became After' than 'Wait for Glory'. Some of my favorites-originals include upbeat "One to Follow", joyful and colorful "Pollex" and slower, impressive "Pilgrim's Wake".

Although I think the album run out of the steam a bit especially towards the end of the album, it is still very fine piece of music, which contains moments on par to Kansas's glory days. 3.5 stars.

Report this review (#598475)
Posted Thursday, December 29, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Proto-kaw's latest efforth (see what I did there) is a bit two sided album: on the other hand there are some great and classic tracks like the groovy opener "Daylight", "Things We Are Breaking" that wonderfully combines the best sides of 80's prog to some folky bits and the almost orchestral "On the Air (Again)". Besides those pieces (and a few others) there is a lot of average stuff that seems to say nothing special even after repeated listens. I don't know where Livgren dropped the incredible inspiration he had when writing albums like Before Became After and Prime Mover, but it sure didn't find its way here. That said, this is by no means a bad album. If you liked the two previous kaw albums you will probably like this as well, at least in pieces if not the whole thing.
Report this review (#790113)
Posted Tuesday, July 17, 2012 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars Their third album comes forth

This third full-length studio record from Proto-Kaw seem to have passed under the radar of many Prog fans, including - for a long time - my own, I must admit. For those who don't know the background of the band, Proto-Kaw was a band that existed in the very early 70's and was Kerry Livgren's pre-Kansas band. Nothing was released under the name of Proto-Kaw at the time, but recordings from 1971 to 1973 emerged in 2002 to coincide with the return of the band after some 30 years. Brand new material was then recorded and resulted in the aptly titled studio album Before Became After in 2004. A couple of years later came another studio disc in The Wait Of Glory. Both of these albums are very good and highly recommended!

Being a Kansas fan I naturally had an interest in hearing Proto-Kaw, but it must be pointed out that the two bands are quite different. I like to think of Proto-Kaw as the American counterpart of Jethro Tull. Like that of the latter band, the sound of Proto-Kaw contains heavy Rock with jazzy and bluesy elements and lots of flutes and keyboards. But also similarities with other early progressive Rock groups like King Crimson and Camel can be detected. Given the ancient roots of the band, the 'proto' in the name is very apt, not just because of the relation to Kansas, but also because Proto-Kaw could actually be seen as representing an alternative route that progressive Rock could have taken on the other side of the Atlantic (unlike Kansas which was perhaps more of an American take on British Prog).

Forth continues in a similar style to the previous two albums but perhaps one could say that this one is a little bit slicker compared to Before Became After and The Wait Of Glory. While some songs are every bit as progressive and almost as good as the material on those previous albums, there are here also a few more straightforward, bluesy rockers that I don't care all that much for. Though I agree with what seems to be the general consensus among those who have heard this album that it is relatively weaker compared to its predecessors, I do not agree that it is a weak album as such considered in its own right. Certainly a newcomer should best begin with Before Became After and The Wait Of Glory, but anyone who admires those albums will probably find something to like here as well. At least, I do.

Report this review (#1215159)
Posted Saturday, July 19, 2014 | Review Permalink

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