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Kansas - The Ultimate Kansas Box Set CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.83 | 48 ratings

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3 stars I remember vividly when I bought this boxed-set. It was 1995, the set had been out for a while, and Kansas was pretty much incognito as a band. They were covering the county fair and festival circuit and not doing much in the studio. The embarrassing Live full of Whiskey was out and we hadn’t yet heard if there would be a Freaks of Nature album, but we had heard about Steve Walsh snorting most of his earnings up his nose and wrapping his SUV around a pole in downtown Atlanta in broad daylight and heading off for rehab somewhere. All indications were that the band was pretty much done except for the official announcement, and this collection looked to be the icing on the cake of a great career that was ending with mostly a whimper.

At the time CDs were still pretty exotic for those of us on a budget, and I recall carefully contemplating whether I should buy the set in cassette or CD format. I chose the cassettes simply because I had a player in my car, and in retrospect that was the wrong choice, but oh well.

Turns out the boys still had a bit of juice left in them and managed to put out another three studio albums, the live Device-Voice-Drum, and numerous more collections/ compilations, including the much more comprehensive retrospective Sail On. But there are some positive points to this collection as well, and it’s not a bad purchase for those wanting to get to know the band at a reasonable price.

With the exception of “Wheels”, all the songs here are from the band’s first seven albums, which are of course the ones that were recorded by the original lineup of Steve Walsh, Kerry Livgren, Robby Steinhardt, Dave Hope, Rich Williams, and Phil Ehart. “Wheels” was a previously unreleased track that was written by Livgren in the early 90s and recorded by him, Ehart, Steve Walsh, and then-current violinist David Ragsdale specifically for this collection (although it would appear on the ‘Definitive’ 1997 collection as well).

The song selection is pretty good and varied, with at least three songs from each of the seven studio albums. Some of the recordings are alternate mixes, and give us an all-too-rare listen to the band live at their peak. “Death of Mother Nature Suite” gets an extended treatment from a Cowtown Ballroom concert in Kansas City circa 1973. “Incomudro – Hymn to the Atman” is a sixteen minute-long recording from a 1975 Cleveland, Ohio concert. And a pleasantly surprising choice, “On the Other Side” from Monolith comes from a 1979 concert in Springfield, Missouri (Walsh’s voice is still rock- solid at this point in his career). The really noteworthy thing about these three live tracks is how faithful they are to the original studio recordings, while at the same time embellishing the songs with violin flourishes, a few extra guitar riffs for emphasis, and climactic finishes. Steinhardt’s violin sounds better live on all three of these than on the studio versions. These songs really confirm the band’s ability to translate their studio sound to the stage, and in retrospect I wish they would have had the foresight to capture all of these songs live and release them here instead of the studio versions, if for no other reason than that except for Two For the Show, there is very little quality footage of the band in concert in the latter 70s.

The one other special track is the opening “Can I Tell You”, which is also the opening track on their debut album. This version is the original demo tape the band sent to producer Don Kirshner in 1972, leading to them being signed to his label and the start of their recording career. The contrast between this and the final studio version on their 1974 release is striking. Steinhardt is actually a bit tentative on violin, his and Walsh’s vocals seem to clash, and the rhythm between bassist Dave Hope and drummer Phil Ehart is strained. The tempo is also markedly slower on this demo track. This alone is a really interesting insight into a band that has always been very guarded about releasing demo tracks, studio castoffs, and other recorded curios.

The rest of the collection is mostly what a fan would expect. All the hit singles up to that point are here, even the ones most people forgot were singles, or didn't realize were actually Kansas songs: “Song for America”, “Carry on Wayward Son”, “Point of Know Return”, “Portrait (He Knew)”, “Dust in the Wind”, “People of the South Wind”, and “Hold On”. Only “Reason to Be” and “Got to Rock On”, the last charting singles from Monolith and Audio-Visions, respectively, are omitted for some reason.

A couple of obvious oversights are “Miracles out of Nowhere” and “Cheyenne Anthem” from Leftoverture and “No One Together” from Audio-Visions, the latter not because it’s such a great song, but because of what it symbolized about the eventual breakup of the band.

I would also have preferred, if not an entire live album, at least “Magnum Opus” from Leftoverture and “People of the South Wind” from Monolith live, as I’ve heard both of these done live where they outshined the originals. There’s also a live version of “Cheyenne Anthem” floating around out there somewhere with some absolutely awesome meatwall guitar work by Rich Williams on it that would have been great here.

Otherwise, the packaging is not as slick as Sail On, but not bad for the early 90s. The enclosed booklet tells the band’s early history and has some photos. None of this is new territory, but it’s a nice package deal nonetheless. There are complete credits, dates, and studio information for all the tracks, which is good historical information for nerds like me who dig that stuff. And the back page photo of the band in white tuxedos posing with some of the original Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz is priceless!

There is one better collection of the band (Sail On), and a much better snapshot of them in their glory live (Two for the Show), but for a reasonable price, this is also a good collection. I see this as a good deal for those mildly interested in discovering Kansas without having to shell out a couple hundred bucks (U.S. dollars) for all seven of the first albums. For that reason this deserves at least three stars.


P.S. A note for those who have seen this labeled otherwise - this is not the "Ultimate Kansas Boxed-Set". That title does not appear anywhere on the packaging. It is simply titled "Kansas".

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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