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Steve Walsh - Glossolalia  CD (album) cover


Steve Walsh


Crossover Prog

3.43 | 71 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Well, well, well, we've certainly come a long way since Schemer Dreamer. Once known as the more straightforward, AOR element of Kansas, Steve Walsh has really come into his own as a songwriter, and that is very clear from this solo album. Featuring a huge variety of styles (some of which work better than others), I honestly feel there is material on here that can certainly rival Kerry Livgren's work, despite Livgren generally being thought of as the proggier songwriter. Be aware, though, this is not a Kansas album, and in fact has a lot more to do with modern progressive metal than it does with the kind of symphonic prog Kansas plays. That said, this is still a good, albeit flawed album, and fans of Walsh should find plenty to like.

The title track begins the album on a rather ominous note, and a surprisingly heavy one as well. Pounding riffs overlay rather sinister synths, and Walsh's now-raspy voice complements the combination perfectly with half-spoken, darkly poetic lyrics. A strange electronic section in the middle of the track breaks up the flow a little bit, but it also kind of works, giving the track a disjointed feel that goes well with its bizarre arrangment. Walsh also makes great use of the changes his voice has undergone, with raw, rasping vocals giving the music an extra edge that even his greatest moments in Kansas never had. "Glossolalia" is a very strange track, but a pretty good one and a definite message that this isn't Kansas anymore.

"Serious Wreckage" is one of the few songs I can point to where the lyrics really make the song. Much of the track I think would come off as a cheesy ballad were the lyrics not so deadly serious (about a drunk driving incident in which a child was killed). As a result, the song comes off incredibly poignantly, with a hugely emotional performance from Walsh. Additionally, the second half of the song is very dark musically, with the same kind of sinister synths of the first track and some very heavy guitars as well. The upshot of it all is that by the time the track reaches its epic vocal conclusion "Serious Wreckage" feels more like an epic than a ballad.

"Heart Attack" I would say is the first misstep of the album. With an 80s disco beat and pseudo-rap vocals from Walsh juxtaposed with elements of prog metal, it's really a rather baffling song that comes off as almost painfully forced after the very heartfelt previous track. There are sections that sound like they could be decent prog-metal in a different context, but when they're overlaid with disco vocals from a man who absolutely should not be singing in that style I rather have to wonder what Mr. Walsh was thinking.

"Kansas," however, more than makes up for it. It's songs like this that make me yearn for another Kansas album with Walsh in a prominent writing role, because this track conclusively proves that he's come a long way since "Power" and even since "Freaks of Nature." "Kansas" is nuanced, dark, and melodically gorgeous, and far more reminiscent of his colleague Kerry Livgren's work than of the AOR pop-rock that Walsh used to put out. Haunting keyboards and another vocal line that makes excellent use of the new rawness in Walsh's voice. This is easily one of the highlights of the album and, in my opinion, one of the best songs Walsh has ever written.

"Nothing" is a much more stripped down affair after the complex orchestration of "Kansas," but it definitely shows another side of Walsh as a songwriter, and one that's just as effective. With beautifully arranged piano and guitar setting up a spare but effective musical backtrack, Walsh delivers another great vocal performance, singing both tenderly and powerfully, and the decades of experience in his voice only add to the performance.

"Haunted Man" is another strange one. Starting off with a catchy, simple, guitar and vocal part, the song quickly launches into a bombastic, heavy rocker of a track with hooks aplenty. Unfortunately, this is one song where I don't think the changes in Walsh's voice have been kind, and as a result I think the track lacks quite a bit of the punch it could have had if Walsh were in his prime. Obviously that's not his fault, but this song, to me, is far from the level of songwriting of "Kansas."

"Smackin' The Clowns," on the other hand, is great. Despite its rather goofy title, the track is a bona-fide prog-metal epic, with virtuosic guitar parts and a stirring narrative about a circus burning down in a small town. Tons of different melodies (most of them quite good) and instrumental sections make appearances in this track, and once again Walsh's voice is used to great effect. This is especially notable in the final third of the track, with a brief spoken word monologue that actually works very well. You can hear the pain and intense emotion in Walsh's voice, and I think that's one of the reasons the song is so good. The song concludes with a reprise of the musical themes of the first part of the track, and of course the narrative ends as well. Another definite highlight.

Unfortunately, "That's What Love's All About" is another one that doesn't really do it for me. Half R & B and half AOR, this is not (in my opinion) one of Walsh's better compositions, and it simply pales in comparison to much of the rest of the album. Add in the fact that sections of this sound like they're still trying to be proggy, with orchestral synths parts and the like, and you have to wonder what is going on with this one.

"Mascara Tears" works a little better, with a very melodic, tender piano part and some almost crooning vocals from Walsh. While it's a decidedly simpler song than "Kansas" or "Smackin' the Clowns," it's certainly still a great track, with a very vintage kind of classy sound and a really stellar vocal performance from Walsh as well. I think it would have made an excellent closer for the album and I'm always a bit disappointed when there's another song.

The reason for that is that "Rebecca" is simply not that good. Though it begins with a fairly promising atmospheric section, it quickly devolves into a fairly standard AOR number. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that this was a leftover from Walsh's Streets days, because it simply screams "power ballad." Unfortunately, that's not really the kind of track that works particularly well with Walsh's voice anymore, and after the smooth class of "Mascara Tears" "Rebecca" comes off as a bit of a let-down, or at the very least a bit underwhelming.

Ultimately, Glossolalia is a good album which is severely limited by its low points. It's very hard to take the album seriously without dismissing songs like "Heart Attack" outright, and I honestly don't know if I would enjoy this album as much as I do were it not for the sizable nostalgia factor it carries for me. I do truly believe that "Kansas" and "Smackin' the Clowns" are very good songs that most prog fans should enjoy, but there's also some definite filler, and I would imagine that listeners who are not already fans of Walsh might have trouble making it through the whole album without pressing the skip button.

2.5/5, rounded up.

VanVanVan | 3/5 |


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