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




Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 150 ratings

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Eclectic Prog Team
4 stars Before there was Kansas, there was.Kansas? Proto-Kaw happens to be an earlier incarnation of Kansas, but despite Kerry Livgren at the helm of the band, the music is quite unlike anything Kansas proper has given us. For one thing, the supplemental instrument is not a violin, but a saxophone and a flute. Lynn Meredith has a distinctive voice, one that has clearly matured and mellowed over time. With few exceptions, he refrains from hitting soaring notes like those Steve Walsh is (was) known for, but that doesn't mean Meredith is not a highly capable and expressive vocalist. Kerry Livgren provides us with some of his best guitar playing in recent years, using a pleasant bluesy tone and some tasteful dual leads. The rest of the band is very tight musically, and they create a sound that is distinctively theirs. Luckily for us listeners, these men have rekindled friendships and are realizing their musical dream, the one that consistently eluded them years before.

"Alt. More Worlds Than Known" A perfect way to open this album, this song represents (almost) everything that is right with Proto-Kaw. There are crunchy guitars, flickers or organ, growling bass, and vocal work right up front that let's us know we're in for something good. A majestic interlude separates one part from the next. The instrumental section is full of flute and dual lead guitar work, with some synthesizer lead for good measure. Craig Kew gets to show off his noteworthy bass groove to set us up for the inspiring end of the song. In the end, Lynn Meredith is pleading, singing from the heart, demonstrating that, while he may not be a master tenor, he is full of soul, able to raise most anyone's flesh in a fit of chill bumps. Fortunately, this is merely the first of several exceptional songs.

"Words of Honor" The second song is a comforting one, full of hope. It's easy to listen to, and the lyrics convey an encouraging and warm feeling. I almost feel that the beautiful simplicity of the song is ruined by the more complex and heavier business going on in the middle; perhaps those segments could have been a part of a different, longer piece of music so that "Words of Honor" could stand alone. As it is, it's a charming song, and a worthy addition to the album; the final stanzas are heartfelt and relevant.

"Leaven" "Leaven" features some spoken word before launching into what could be part of a soundtrack to an epic war movie set in the Ancient Near East. The stringed instruments are full of character, really adding to the ambience of the song. The song uses varied time signatures (the main riff is in 11/8). It goes from heavy rock to soft flute and piano passages to bring in the vocals, which are moving on many levels. Seven minutes in, there is a frantic, almost tribal-sounding passage that ends the song well. It is refreshingly complex, and quite simply one of Livgren's best.

"Axolotl" The flute-driven introduction is calm and pleasant, but the vocal melody in the verse is a little whiny and tacky. The chorus makes up for this with determined lyrics and a great tune. The instrumental section is nothing less than brilliant, and it's a real shame the verses are as weak as they are. Otherwise, this one's a great effort.

"Quantum Leapfrog" There's a lot of funky of bass and saxophone going on here, as well as some slightly campy harmonizing. That alone probably makes it something of a "hit or miss" track for most people, but I suspect it will appeal to Gentle Giant fans. There is some spectacular guitar and organ soloing there and here also. This is the track when John Bolton gets an ample opportunity to exhibit his talent as a saxophonist. Despite the lyrics, "Quantum Leapfrog" is clearly a track for the musicians to "show what they know" and be a tad quirky at the same time.

"Greenberg, Glickstein, Charles, David, Smith and Jones" A cover of a song by The Cryan Shames, this track is more of a mainstream "bonus" song, which was not included in the original release. It's sort of fun, but nothing much more than that. The arrangements in the middle are not bad, though. If you like it, enjoy; I skip it.

"Gloriana" Overall, this song is fantastic, but there are parts of it that make me cringe, namely the verses. "Well it just isn't right to give into the night" ranks down there with some of The Flower Kings lyrical stinkers- worse really, because it's lazy, cheesy, and the melody does nothing to help it. Moreover, the transition almost five minutes in. well, doesn't exist. Yet again we have another victim of progressive rock musicians' tendencies to jump right into a new segment without any form of evolution happening. These "quantum leaps" are rarely effective, and seem slothful on the part of the composer. Still, there's plenty of praiseworthy aspects of this song. The chorus is brilliant and majestic. It moves my heart in a way that few lyrics do. Then there's the middle instrumental section- talk about paying homage to "Journey from Mariabronn!" The riff is similar in flavor, only rather than a 6/8 time signature, we get an 18/4 time signature (7+7+4), and instead of violin and synthesizer, there is a crazy saxophone solo followed by a more reserved synth pad bit. The music that bookends the whole piece is excellent guitar-led work from the pen of Mr. Livgren, and the song ends in a stirring way.

"Occasion of Your Honest Dreaming" With the possible exception of the cover above, this is decidedly the worst track on the album. It seriously sounds like a bad jingle for breath mints or some such thing. The only thing that could salvage this one is the lead guitar playing, and perhaps the brief middle section (which is rather good), but other than that, this one makes me want to hide my face in shame. Fortunately, it's the second shortest.

"Heavenly Man" Here we have a fair song. On the one hand, the music is well-written, and the way the vocal melody follows the music in certain parts is certainly interesting, but this time it's the instrumental section in the middle that suffers. There's good soloing going on both from Livgren and organist Dan Wright (largely from the former), but that's part of what makes the song somewhat bland. There are more pleading lyrics in the end (although not as moving as those in the first song). Regardless, this is a decent effort.

"Theophany" This is a shelved gem from Kansas's early years; an earlier version of the lyrics is printed in Kerry Livgren's (semi-auto) biography Seeds of Change: The Spiritual Quest of Kerry Livgren. The three minute instrumental introduction is a stately and regal one, as though greeting the procession of a mighty king (and considering the songwriter, perhaps it is). The verses are decent, but not as phenomenal as the music that preceded it. The musical interlude approximately five minutes in is embarrassing, though- not awful, just embarrassing. It sounds like the theme song for a cheesy game show in the 1970s. The transition after the last verse is a little sloppy. Other than that, this is an excellent song from Before Became After.

Bonus Tracks:

"Belexis" "Belexis" predated Kansas's first album by some time, and Proto-Kaw's live version here just goes to show how even a fairly straightforward progressive rock song can be very different when other musicians (and especially a vocalist with a different range) are playing it. There is a long piano introduction and some jamming before the song proper. People accustomed to the original may be put-off with Meredith dropping the octave in certain parts, but after a few listens, his singing here has it's own gritty charm. The saxophone gives this song a funkier flavor than the original. Dan Wright's solo should have been mixed louder, and the drum solo is marginal, but other than that, this is a great live version of fantastic song.

"It Moves You" This is a sad attempt at smooth jazz, really, sort of like what Toto was doing some of the time ("Gerogy Porgy" anyone?). It's all the better that this track was removed from the main album in the special edition and relegated to the bonus disc. All they needed was to get Diana Ross and Kenny G in on this one- they would have fit right in.

Epignosis | 4/5 |


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