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Proto-Kaw - Before Became After CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 150 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars After Before Became After came before the after-life of Proto-Kaw, this debut album is not only the result of the P-K archives release on Cuneiform, but also most likely partly the results of Livgren looking for a new band after his fall out with some of his Kansas cohorts. Livgren's Christians believe probably lead him to believe he had some guilts towards those members that got left behind in their pursuit of their RnR dreams of their youth, so he set out to get the group back together again, even though some members were obviously geographically dispersed and one member had sadly disappeared in the previous decade. With only one historical member not rejoining (bassist Mikinsky still plays on one guitar), it looks like Livgren's prayers were answered.

As to what to expect musically after a three decades hiatus, having discovered the archives release on Cuneiform, I knew all too well not to expect something similar to that "album". With this album's artwork (evoking the pre-colonization prairies), the play on word of their name cannot escape anyone anymore: the buffalo/bison being an ancestor of the domesticated (and most likely heavily genetically modified) cow, therefore a proto-cow, hence Prot-Kaw. And you thought those prairie cowboys had no sense of humour!! ;-)

Instead of the ultra early-70's UK derivative prog of the archives release, I expected a very professional and adult prog that the US has gotten us so used to. Yes this album has a very actual US prog sound (sometimes approaching a bit too much for my tastes the AOR realm), reminding of Spock's Beard, Kaipa, modern-day Kansas (at least I'd expect it too, since I have only heard one of their 90's album) and in some weird way some 90's Tull winks thrown in for a good measure. Obviously the psychedelic moods of their archives release are completely absent, replaced by this mature symphonic rock with some jazz inflections, the whole thing being a bit too polished to my liking.

While never being a mega Kansas fan, I found that Livgren's songwriting has retained that special touch that he had already acquired in the 70's: although there is no mention of specific individual credits, my guess is that he wrote all tracks in terms of composition, bar that rather out-of-place Glickstein cover. Lyrically, I seem to detect the same usual Kansas classic themes, so my guess is that Meredith might have helped out, but Livgren took the huge majority of the texts upon him. Meredith's voice is clearly not (understandably) the same than on those demos of three decades gone by, Bolton's sax being less prominent, but his flute taking over and Schulz's drumming is much improved than on those demos.

Anyway, there are some very average tracks like the pedestrian More Worlds, the atrociously sweet ballad Word Of Honour (sounds like a sub-par Toto track), the simili/imitation-fusion of Quantum Leapfrog (horrendous vocals sections), the pedestrian flute-laden Gloriana (obviously Bolton's moment in this album), the expeditious Southern (almost) country rocker Your Honest Dreaming (thankfully short and coming handy with the skip button in further listens) and Heavenly Man which ends much better than it started.

On the other hand, some tracks sound like they might have survived from the 70's era, such as the slightly psych Leaven (you can definitely hear the more passionate moods lacking in other tracks), the early Kansas-sounding Axolotl (a Mexican pre-Columbian deity), and the pompous and bombastic ELP-reminiscent 12-min Theophany, unfortunately with one of those hateful proselytism message that only Christian born- again Americans can bother the whole planet with. Clearly it is those Kansas-ey songs that get my attention, rather than the more modern, tamer material which is more what P-K is all about, nowadays.

One couldn't have expected P-K to develop 70's in order to meet the expectations of that demo Cuneiform release gave fans at their release, so we have a mature prog, that fails to raise much excitement and enthusiasm, but the resulting is a very professional, adult prog that is not far from AOR boredom in their more conventional, with its fair share of pompousness in their more Kansas-ey moments. Fails to really arouse my interest, but there is no doubt that most Kansas fans will love it. I doubt it will stand the test of time, though.

Sean Trane | 3/5 |


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