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




Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 156 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
Special Collaborator
PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic
4 stars The band Kansas actually had three different line-ups in the 70s with only Kerry Livgren being the sole member to transverse all the different incarnations of the band. The band formed as far back as 1969 and went through a few cast member changes before a second version now referred to as Kansas II emerged in the aftermath. This is the period when Livgren and company produced a plethora of progressive leaning rock that took a cue from all the greats of the era including but limited to King Crimson, Yes, Pink Floyd, Zappa, Deep Purple and beyond. After the positive feedback from releasing their archival "Early Recordings From Kansas 1971-1973" in 2002, the newly named PROTO-KAW felt a magical rekindling of spirits and decided to have a go at taking a stab at the unfulfilled desires which they abandoned thirty years prior. Due to legal restrictions on how the trademarked band name Kansas could be used, the band cleverly found a way of telling the story all in the context of legal loopholes. PROTO (original) plus KAW (name of the Native American tribe also referred to as Kanza or Kansa) produced a name that had an exact equivalency and finally at long last despite most members not even being in contact with each other for three decades cleverly named their debut album of completely new music BEFORE BECAME AFTER.

This newly formed line up of Kansas II aka PROTO-KAW consisted of six musicians and a few extras. The songwriter-in-chief and musical director was Livgren who also contributes guitars, piano, keyboards and served as engineer-in-chief to boot. Also on board is Craig Kew on bass, Brad Schulz on drums, Dan Wright on organ, keys and percussion and the proto-vocalist Lynn Meredith who gave Steve Walsh a distinct style to improve upon. John Bolton is also on board and contributes the sax and flute which were present on the early Kansas that were released archivally and are present on this updated version of PROTO-KAW which give this release a distinct if distant relative type of feel to the popular era of 70s Kansas. Rod Mikinski from the Kansas I era contributes bass to the track "Axolotl" and a couple extra background vocalists are included as well. All tracks are originals with Kerry Livgran serving as songwriter, producer and engineer however the track "Greenburg, Glickstein, Charles, David, Smith and Jones" is a cover of the 1968 song by The Cryan' Shames although properly processed in a progified manner to symphonically fit in with the neighboring tracks that surround it.

BEFORE BECAME AFTER sounds nothing like the unreleased tracks released two years prior. This is a fully updated band that took their stowed away musical mojo and fully unleashed it in the context of the early 21st century. While the early days showed an uncompromising trend to delve into many prog arenas covered by Yes, King Crimson, Genesis and even the most psychedelic arenas, the current PROTO-KAW is firmly placed in the symphonic prog realms and sounds most like Neal Morse and Spock's Beard if you need a firm comparison. This is particularly true of the first track "Alt. More Worlds Than Known" which is a dead ringer for a Morse solo effort but PROTO-KAW never gets stuck in a rut and the tracks while unified in a common overall sound do differ substantially. What keeps them unified is the fact that they revolve around strong melodic hooks, tend to engage in extended jams that exhibit a healthy dose of progressive rock attributes which include time signature deviations as well as extended polyrhythms. The positive Christian oriented lyrics also bring the Morse comparisons to mind however PROTO-KAW is a bit more subtle and refrain from ever delving into the repulsive pits of preachiness.

When all is said and done, BEFORE BECAME AFTER is an excellent set of strong melody oriented progressive rock tunes. Lynn Meredith has an extremely pleasant voice and although not quite on par with Steve Walsh at his peak has definitely maintained his vox box over the years and blows away the abysmal "Somewhere To Elsewhere" which was the Kansas album that attempted to be relevant in the brave new world. It is obvious that these guys had unfinished business and the passion is fully aflame like the glowing bison that graces the album cover. The guitar and bass lines rule the roost here with the drums supporting them, but the keyboards and symphonic touches quite tastefully add the frosting on the cake which make an extremely pleasant album, which to be honest, totally caught me off guard. I was expecting the usual "stuck in the past" approach for an aged cast of band members who lost their opportunity decades prior. Perhaps the reason this works so well is because despite the time that had elapsed, the unfulfilled members still had all those ideas pent up and once in cahoots with Livgren's music world expertise allowed everyone to cross-pollinate into some new musical beast. Whatever the reason, this is superb symphonic prog and although i find there to be a Neal Morse sort of connection seems more cohesive than most of his output. The flute and sax that add a touch of jazz-fusion also contributes to a richer sound. Love this one!

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |


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