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Kansas - Kansas CD (album) cover

KANSAS

Kansas

 

Symphonic Prog

3.99 | 591 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars Kansas’ debut album was ‘the little album that could’, in many ways. An interesting piece of trivia: this album was certified gold by ASCAP (500,000 copies sold) – in 1995, twenty-one years after its release! I think at its original release it sold something like 100,000 copies. That statistic is a testament to the enduring popularity of this band, and another example of how ahead of their time they were in 1974.

“Can I Tell You” kicks off this album with a bang. It’s a good introduction to the band. Steinhardt’s violin flat out screams, and both Kerry Livgren and Rich Williams crank out some tasty guitar licks that should have been beyond their capabilities at the time, considering their age and levels of experience. There are many different version of this one floating around. If you ever get a chance to listen to the original demo version that appears on the 1994 boxed-set, compare that to this one and you’ll see the progression of the band’s talent in just the couple of years between when the demo was cut and this album’s release. The sound is much tighter, Steinhardt seems to have found his confidence, and the tempo is considerably more aggressive.

“Bringing it Back” is a J.J. Cale about drug smuggling. This is a heavy blues-influenced rocking number, and is one of those songs that gave the band a reputation of being more like a biker band than a progressive one. It’s really a holdover from their days of hustling gigs at small beer joints around the midwest where most of the clientele preferred this style of music and had never heard of the likes of Peter Gabriel or Jon Anderson (and would have beaten the crap out of either one of them if they ever rand across them). The band still plays this one on tours today, and even all these years and albums later, this song still ranks as one of my favorite Steinhardt tunes for his enthusiastic vocals and torrid violin work..

Steve Walsh wrote “Lonely Wind”, a slow, almost ballad-like number with some acoustic guitar and lacking the meat-wall guitar of Rich Williams that fans would come to love later.

The next two songs are the ones that really introduced the Livgren art rock sound to America – “Belexes” and “Journey From Mariabronn”. These are both extended play songs, full of tempo changes, solo bits from just about every band member (including a short drum solo), and the first showcases of Steve Walsh’s incredible soaring vocals. The intricate keyboard work by both Walsh and Livgren are almost lost in the succeeding waves of sounds that wash over both of these songs. The confident patience Livgren shows in the sustains on his recurring guitar riffs on "Belexes" is simply brilliant, and far more mature than someone of his experience should have been capable of in 1974. I would buy this album again today just for these two songs. A different and not quite as good version of “Belexes” appeared on the first Proto-Kaw album in 2002.

The back side of the album features just three songs, but they run for almost 25 minutes. “The Pilgrimage” is one of the most forgotten Kansas songs ever, full of stark piano and dissonant chords, and the first song featuring the beautifully harmonized voices of Walsh and Steinhardt. Robbie’s violin work here is a bit more subdued, and the way he and Williams take turns carrying the rhythm between violin and electric guitar is really cool (can’t think of a more accurate way to describe it). This is one of the earthy nature songs that Livgren liked to write back then, and this sound would be heard thirty again thirty years later in the first release of Proto-Kaw (minus the vocals of Steinhardt and Walsh, of course). I can’t think of another Kansas song ever since that sounds quite like this one.

“Apercu” is another song that is kind of self-deprecating of the human race and its tendency to overlook the beauty of life. This one is heavy in violin as well, and was rarely played in concert in the band’s later years. This is one song I could see them resurrecting on tour with their current lineup with David Ragsdale.

The album winds its way to a close with the ambitious “Death of Mother Nature Suite”, an unabashed tree-hugging condemnation of man’s destruction of our environment through pollution, neglect, and just plain ignorance. I can’t imagine any band recording a song like this today, but in the early 70’s it didn’t really seem out of place.

Pretty much every progressive music fan today would probably recognize the distinctive painting of John Brown as the cover of Kansas’s first album, but I wonder how many casual fans have really taken the time to sit down and listen through the entire album a few times and experience the budding sound of what would become the premier progressive band on the American landscape for years to come.

When I listen to this album today I can’t help but feel a little sad, both for the relative innocence of those lost days, and for the wear that thirty years have brought to this once young and bright-eyed group of musicians. But on the other hand, it’s nice to know that I’ll always have these songs tucked away to enjoy from time-to-time, and I wonder how many more years will pass with new generations of progressive music fans growing up and discovering the joy of Kansas on their own. If you’ve never listened to a Kansas album, or even if your only knowledge of them is “Dust in the Wind” and “Carry on Wayward Son”, then treat yourself to 45 minutes of musical pleasure, and pick this one up. I can’t imagine that you’ll regret the experience.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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