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Kerry Livgren - Seeds Of Change CD (album) cover


Kerry Livgren


Crossover Prog

3.48 | 37 ratings

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4 stars So much of why we choose to like, or to pan, an album is dependent on the context in which we encounter it. This was never truer for me than with Seeds of Change. There was so much going on at the time this record was released - with the music industry in general, and with the various members of Kansas in particular, that one cannot help but view these tracks as a progression in the art of Kerry Livgren, and an inevitable beginning of the end of his membership in Kansas.

Livgren had always shown a spiritual side in his lyrics, dating from the early days of Kansas with songs like "The Pilgrimage", "The Pinnacle", and "Dust in the Wind". His search for meaning in life had led him at various times to Zen and other forms of mysticism and Eastern philosophy. Pretty much the entire Monolith album spoke to his interest in Urantia in the latter part of the 1970s. During the 1979 tour to support that album, he converted to Christianity with the guidance of touring mate Jeff Pollard of Louisiana's Le Roux, another American band with a progressive bent, albeit a southern-tinged one. By the next spring, Livgren was in the studio recording Seeds of Change, an up-front musical version of the gospel message, heavily accompanied by fellow converts from throughout the American music scene. This was at the same time band mate Steve Walsh was in another studio cranking out his rock-and-roll coming out, Schemer-Dreamer. Interestingly enough, both artists were assisted in their production and engineering efforts by the same team of Brad Aaron and Davy Moire. But the results, like most of the songs each had penned as part of Kansas, could not have been more different.

Seeds of Change contains seven tracks, all but one of which are straightforward proclamations by Livgren that his search for truth and meaning has ended, that, as he puts it on the opening track, "Just One Way" -

"All my life I looked for something real, place to place I wandered restlessly, I just needed something I could feel, and when I found the truth it set me free".

Doesn't get much more definitive than that. "Just One Way" features the great Barriemore Barlow on drums, Le Roux's Bobby Campo and Jeff Pollard on trumpets and lead vocals, Paul Goddard of Atlanta Rhythm Section on bass, and John Fristoe of Starbuck and child gospel prodigy Mylon Le Fevre with some very somber backing vocals. Livgren himself plays lead guitar, piano, and keyboards throughout the album. Unlike most Kansas songs, this track is heavy on background vocals and piano accompaniment, and lacks the panache of most of the band's music, but has a bit of a bluesy feel to it that is rather appealing.

"Mask of the Great Deceiver", the second track, sparked a fair amount of discussion when fans first heard it. The obvious reference in the title is to the adversary of all Christians, Satan if you like, but in more general terms, really refers to anything that is not the 'truth'. Barlow's drum work is particularly hypnotic here, but the real gem is the lead vocal of Ronnie James Dio, and unlikely front man for a gospel album if there ever was one. The story I've heard is that Livgren, who knew of Dio from his days in Elf, wanted a voice that could project a dark sense of foreboding the song of meant to portray. It was a great choice, as Dio sets an almost demonic tone. This is my favorite track, and one I still find myself playing from time to time some 25 years later.

"How Can You Live" is a much more lively song, an asked-and-answered appeal as why anyone could possibly find any answer to life's meaning aside from the one Livgren settled on. Livgren adds a nice 'Sunday morning go to meeting' touch with a church organ here. Steve Walsh makes a surprising appearance on vocals, and doesn't disappoint. In light of the different directions the two of them took with their respective solo debuts, and subsequent careers in general, I still find it fascinating that Walsh was willing to sing on a song that essentially underscored one of the key points of contention between the two former band mates, and that he put so much energy into pulling off a great vocal interpretation.

The final track on side A of the original vinyl is "Whiskey Seed", a southern bayou dirge heavily influenced by the Le Roux boys in the studio. Kerry bills himself as "Mississippi Willie" in the credits, and performs the lead vocal job for about the only time I can ever recall to that point in his career. For a singer, he certainly plays a mean keyboard. The song tells of a skid-row drunk whose "been down on the road, living' so low that I'd sell you my britches of' a nickel". Longtime Kansas stickman Phil Ehart plays drums here, but the performance isn't noteworthy by any stretch. The backing funeral-like accompaniment by "The Moaning Multitudes" (apparently whoever was in the studio at the time plus Rich William's and Livgren's wives) makes this sound more like something from a Flogging Molly album than anything that would normally be associated with Kerry Livgren. I'm not sure why this one made it onto the album.

Side B kicks off with "To Live For the King", Livgren's affirmation of his newfound faith and accompanying lifestyle. Some old Kansas fans also have pointed to this track as the farewell song for the band in its original form. Dio sings on this one as well, but in a much more subdued fashion than what his fans are accustomed to hearing. Steve Walsh also lends a hand with vocals, but kind of just fades away toward the end.

"Down To the Core" is just filler, affirming the fact that Walsh and Livgren both had a burning desire to make personal statements with solo albums in 1980, but neither had an entire album's worth of things to say. Another dirge-like tune with sound engineer Davy Moire, of all people, tackling the lead vocals, backed by Livgren's wife.

The album closes out with "Ground Zero", a composition much closer to the extended play musical flights of fancy Livgren had been so known for to this point in his career. David Pack of Ambrosia covers the vocals here with a fair amount of energy, and the various musical transitions are supported quite nicely by the violin of Kansas co-front man Robby Steinhardt, Phil Eharts relentless drums, and backing vocals which again called on the 'talents' of studio engineers Davy Moire, Steve Venezia, and Brad Aaron. The sound is quite good, but seems at times to be improvisational which, considering the talent lineup-of-convenience, it probably was.

Livgren would go on to complete three more studio albums with Kansas - Audio-Visions that same spring, followed by Vinyl Confessions and Drastic Measures a few years later, both of which were heavy on spiritual lyrics and guest musicians from the Christian music industry. After that Dave Hope and Livgren would leave to pursue their Christian music careers full time (and Hope would end up behind a pulpit).

All told, this is an interesting album when taken in the context of the time, the state of affairs and personal relationships in the band Kansas, and the transitional progression of Kerry Livgren from a long-haired progressive artist, to straight-laced Christian crusader. Many more albums like this one followed, whether solo or with his part-time pseudo-prog group AD. Only in the past couple of years have we seen some interesting new developments in Livgren's career, with the reformation of the real original (pre-Kirshner) lineup of Kansas in the group Proto-Kaw.

Lyrically and strategically this has to be considered a progressive album, particularly in light of the huge risk Livgren took in making a very public pronouncement of his faith, as well as a large step away from the band that had brought him so much fame and fortune. I'm not sure it rises to the level of "excellent" in terms of composition and originality, but it's definitely more than just "good" (and is certainly not "non-essential"), so I think the only appropriate rating to give is four stars.

Livgren's earlier work with Kansas is well-known, and much of it is essential prog history, of the American strain, if not in general. And the Proto-Kaw tracks from 2002 and 2004 are actually much better produced and well-crafted than this album, but it has a very specific and necessary place in the history of so many musicians and the Kansas band, not to mention the career of Kerry Livgren himself. If you're an older Kansas fan you already have this. If you're just getting started, buy this some time after Monolith and before Vinyl Confessions. It'll make more sense that way.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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