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Kansas - Somewhere to Elsewhere CD (album) cover

SOMEWHERE TO ELSEWHERE

Kansas

 

Symphonic Prog

3.50 | 272 ratings

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Epignosis
Special Collaborator
Eclectic Prog Team
5 stars One of the greatest surprises to happen in progressive rock history for me was the reunion of Kansas, even if it was only meant to be a fleeting one. The result of this meeting of such musical genius is Somewhere to Elsewhere, which I consider to be Kansas's finest studio album. With the amazing Kerry Livgren once again at the helm, the music features the compositional integrity and structural intrigue albums without him largely lacked. Steve Walsh's vocals (which were recording hundreds of miles away from the rest of the band) are in much better shape, particularly considering the hell he put them through during part of his career, and Steinhardt's voice is at its most mature and majestic ever. Speaking of excellent vocals, bassist Billy Greer gets an opportunity to bring to the fore what he has loyally provided the Kansas sound with in the background. Rich Williams adds a variety of textures to the music with his mysteriously overlooked guitar work, not the least of which consists of his volatile and meaty electric guitar tone. Even now-Anglican minister Dave Hope makes an appearance, sharing the bass playing duties with Greer. Livgren not only points back to songs of Kansas's great past, but to songs he wrote during the previous incarnation of Kansas, now recognized as Proto-Kaw. Despite it being their last studio album to date, this is my absolute favorite Kansas album, as I am blown away by the incredible compositions, unimpeachable performances, and the contemporary production standards. If anything, this great album demonstrates that for whatever reason, despite their many differences, both Livgren and Walsh are necessary ingredients for Kansas to make masterpieces.

"Icarus II" Majestic piano and violin initiate the first piece of the album. Walsh sings the first verse over a stark piano, and after an acoustic guitar interlude, the whole band explodes into action, producing a wall of sound. The lyrics describe a World War II bomber reflecting on his role in the grand scheme of things. One of my favorite Kansas lyrics is here: "For the evil that can come from the heart of a man must be answered in kind until it disappears." The theme to "Icarus- Borne on Wings of Steel" makes two appearances, once in the middle and once at the very end of the song. Two sections portray a dogfight that eventually claims the life of the narrator, as he is shot down. In spite of that, he feels a pervading sense of peace, and that frantic section in 5/4 leads right back to the beginning of the song, played at a slightly slower tempo. The musical climax of the song follows- a patriotic-sounding electric guitar passage that brings in the whole band.

"When the World Was Young" This rocker blends elements of progressive and mainstream music much in the way Kansas has sometimes been known to do. The guitars are delightfully gritty, as is Walsh's voice, which soars. The vocal melody is memorable, and the production is especially crisp. This is definitely a guitar-dominated track; Livgren employs a fine riff (it would seem he has an arsenal of those) to accommodate the dirty soloing. Steinhardt's violin plays on a short but enjoyable passage that brings the music back to the catchy chorus. There is a brief hearkening of "Magnum Opus" toward the end of the song, which is an absolutely apposite response a song reminiscing about days long gone.

"Grand Fun Alley" The band follows up one gritty song with a grittier one. In the vein of bluesy rockers like "Down the Road," this song provides Steinhardt a chance to handle the lead vocal work for a while. The guitar work is exciting, and Ehart does a good job shaking things up with his drumming (some of his best work on the album, in my opinion). One complaint I do have about this song is that the lyrics are so conveniently rhymed, they sound a bit stupid. The heavy rock music gives way to something more menacing, and a disembodied voice, which sounds like it's coming through an old radio, leaves the listener cold.

"The Coming Dawn (Thanatopsis)" This is the introspective piece of the album. Walsh's singing is at its most beautiful here, and the soft violin behind him is gorgeous. The parenthetical word in the title is from the Greek, and refers to meditations on death. The original "Thanatopsis" was penned by American poet William Cullen Bryant, and is a poem essentially about reflecting on nature and man's ultimate ties to nature; Livgren takes that Romantic theme farther. As the third verse shows, the song reflects Livgren's belief that his own legacy means nothing apart from his relationship with God. Something not well known is that the entire instrumental section to this lovely piece is in fact the exact same instrumental section used in "Reunion in the Mountains of Sarne," a song from the second incarnation of the band, and can be found on Proto-Kaw's release, Early Recordings from Kansas 1971-1973.

"Myriad" The longest piece on the album does not disappoint; no, it stands out as one of the most progressive things here. This is due in no small part to this song having been written in 1969-1970, when Livgren was in a band named Saratoga. With a few minor differences, the structure is similar to "Journey from Mariabronn." It features an instrumental introduction, vocal sections with intriguing lyrics (including a very strong chorus), an ominously powerful vocal bridge with exquisite counterpoint, that wonderfully elaborate instrumental section (loaded with organ and electric guitar and played in 5/4), and the way the music returns to the chorus before bringing the song back to the introduction, albeit in reversed order. Regarding the instrumental section, the listener is treated to a fine organ solo and two electric guitar solos, both of which simultaneously demonstrate the abilities of the musicians and remain firmly within the context of the music. Somewhere in between, there are wordless vocalizations comparable to Yes. Over a wondrous layer of strings is stunning bass segment that is featured not once, but twice. One can only imagine how this song might have appeared (and been received by die-hard Kansas fans) had it been included on an album like Leftoverture.

"Look at the Time" Right here is classic Kansas: Organ and piano playing almost in unison, guitar and bass playing almost in unison, powerful drums, and the amazing vocal talent of- Billy Greer? Greer makes his debut as a lead vocalist for Kansas on this song, and hearing his towering and clean voice, it only makes me wonder why he wasn't given the microphone more often since he joined in 1986. The verses are excellent, but the bridge is pure Kansas. I love the vocal melodies, as well as the way this song so quickly transitions from something uplifting to something more menacing. The musicianship during the instrumental section is top notch and dark, and the ending possess a similar mood.

"Disappearing Skin Tight Blues" Another bluesy rocker starring Steinhardt, it deceives the listener with a symphonic introduction that gets repeated after the first part. What this song is, however, is a heavier, bluesy number (as the title makes no effort to hide). The refrain is at once well-constructed, tightly performed, and an absolute delight to just let go and sing along to.

"Distant Vision" Beautiful piano and violin opens this majestic piece. It is difficult to describe this song without exhausting every superlative of praise I can possibly write. The band is perfect here, and both Steve Walsh and Robby Steinhardt partake of their roles as lead vocalists. In their own way, they both do an exceptional job, the former singing spiritedly and with conviction, the latter with a sense of awe and tranquility. Stunning piano runs and mesmerizing violin work, not to mention the valuable background instruments like the organ and the acoustic guitar, paint a splendid background for some marvelous lyrics. That bridge is moving, but that last chorus blows me away every time. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Kansas.

"Byzantium" The choir and the distant drums lend this piece a gorgeous Ancient Near-Eastern feel. It features lyrics that just take me to an era I have no immediate knowledge of. The words are some of the most hauntingly beautiful Livgren has ever written- it chills me to think of the United States of America in this light, but I suspect that one cannot help but do so.

"Not Man Big" The last listed song is a heavy rocker, opening with a strange noise before vociferous electric guitar and spunky bass jump into action. The vocals are loaded with energy and confidence. After a ripping electric guitar solo, an organ solo that gradually builds in complexity comes in over the riff. Following that, crunchy power chords in the vein of the attack sequence on "Icarus II" slow in tempo until Steinhardt relieves the tension with a commanding violin solo. The vocal work resumes thereafter. Funky bass and the barked vocals of some fans consume the second half of the song. Rather than having a conclusive end, the band allows the music to fall apart with the sound of people clapping and cheering, giving the feel that this was more like an impromptu jam session in someone's living room.

"Geodesic Dome" The album includes a fun, throwaway hidden track, perhaps an indication that while the boys can play, they can also play around.

Epignosis | 5/5 |

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