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Kansas - Somewhere To Elsewhere CD (album) cover

SOMEWHERE TO ELSEWHERE

Kansas

 

Symphonic Prog

3.50 | 251 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars This was a very important album for Kansas, in that it pretty much indicated the future direction of the band with respect to producing new material versus rehashing old classics and journeyman-like touring until they just ran out of steam. I have to say that after many, many listens and a couple of road trips to see them in concert since this released, that I believe they are leaning towards the latter route. I would be very surprised at this point if Kansas ever releases any new material again.

That's not to say that this isn't a good album - it definitely is. But it is a safe album, a rather predictable one, and one that would not have been made were it not for the generous contributions of former member Kerry Livgren. Since Livgren is plenty busy with the reincarnated Proto-Kaw in addition to running his own studio, it's unlikely he will make such a significant move again. Also, Steve Walsh could have contributed material to this album but didn't, and has said in recent years that he does not feel he can write for Kansas anymore. So unless reinstated member David Ragsdale gets inspired to write some new material, it looks like touring and trying to reinvigorate their 80s catalog with the Works in Progress compilation release is the game plan for now.

Too bad, because these musicians (it's kind of hard to call them a band anymore) are all consummate professionals, as they all demonstrate on this album. Even "Disappearing Skin Tight Blues", which doesn't belong on the album in my opinion, is technically very well done. It just doesn't sound like something Kansas should be doing. My overall feeling from this album is that the band is sending the message that they are perfectly capable of producing high-quality, progressive material, but they aren't going to try very hard to do so.

The things that keep this album from being an important progressive work? Several. First, there is no central theme to the songs, which for a band like Kansas (especially at this stage of their professional careers) is almost unforgivable. Second, the vocals are almost neglectfully underwhelming. Now don't get me wrong - the vocals are not horrible, like Walsh's performance on the abysmal Live at the Whiskey. Even Walsh's permanently strained vocal chords come off as well-rested and not overly taxed. It's just that with three very solid vocalists in Billy Greer, Robbie Steinhardt, and Walsh, I don't understand why the group felt the need to bring in half of Livgren's family to augment the singing, and I think both Greer and Steinhardt were underutilized. Also, the song selection is just a bit suspect considering the variety of voices available in the studio.

All that aside, I'm come to grips with the idea that this album is what it is, and has to be enjoyed on its own merits by fans of the band. We'll take what we can get and make the best of it.

There are ten songs on the album, not counting the goofy little "Piste 11" mystery track at the end. Of these, "Myriad", "Distant Vision", and "The Coming Dawn (Thantopsis)" are all outstanding, demonstrate the kinds of marginally progressive tendencies Livgren has always shown in his better works, and showcase the truly excellent skills of the Kansas players. All three of these are in the vein of what I would have expected of Kansas following Monolith had it not been for the negative impacts of the band's fragmenting at that time, pressures from their label, and in general just the brunt the coming of the 80s had on this and so many other progressive bands. "Myriad" should have been a hit single from this album, and should also be a part of their regular concert track list in my opinion.

"Thantopsis" shows a more mature side to Walsh's voice that I actually found very appealing. The first several times I listened to this I was sure it was actually Greer singing. I would dearly love to see the group perform this one in concert. One other note - this song includes one of the best lines Livgren has put down on paper in years -

"When my world starts to fade, I can only hope that every choice I've made will endure, and carry on. - into the coming dawn".

Beautiful.

"Look at the Time" is a pretty conventional rock song with some slight metal influences that serves as a great showcase of Greer's talents with him in the lead vocal role.

"Grand Fun Alley" and "Disappearing Skin Tight Blues" are heavily blues-influenced rockers in the tradition of "Down the Road", "Bringing it Back", and "Mysteries & Mayhem" from the band's early days. I'm sure these were included as a way to bring Steinhardt's vocals into the mix and to offer some variety. Traditional progressive music fans will dismiss these tracks, but long-time fans should appreciate the acknowledgement of the band's roots and the strong guitar arrangements, although "Disappearing" could have benefited from a bit less of the instrumental wandering that didn't really add much to the song.

"Icarus II" is a bit derivative of the original "Icarus" from the 1975 Masque album, including a few short instrumental passages that hearken back to that era of the band. While the setting for the song is World War II and a pilot's dilemma of being in an airplane being shot down by the enemy, the message is sobering and timely. This is both a mildly political and a moral statement by Livgren, and takes him into a territory rarely traveled to this point in his career. This is an important song for him lyrically, and for the band the instrumental landscape is quite fascinating. Rich Williams and Livgren deliver some impressive heavy guitar work here that has to be heard to be appreciated.

Several reviews I've read have doted on "Byzantium" with its eastern-leaning sound and complex arrangements. It is a very good song and a bit of a musical stretch for this record (in a good way), and I'll echo what most reviewers have said in that this one is far too short and should have been developed into an extended, heavily instrumental epic.

The closing "Not Man Big" is a bit awkward to my tastes, and sounds uncomfortably close to the 80s music the band put out with Drastic Measures and Power. This is pretty straight-forward rock stuff, okay for most bands but extraneous for these guys. This probably should have been left off the album.

Which leaves "When the World Was Young". Other than "Myriad", this gets my vote for the best track on the album. Walsh's voice is clear and strong, the instrumentation is dead-on precise and energetic, and the lyrics tell the story of the lives of all seven of these men in an intimate and personal way. I'm not sure that's what Livgren was getting at when he penned this one, but that's how it comes off regardless. This one is a keeper.

Despite the frustration of unfulfilled possibilities, when all is said and done this album is one I cherish simply because of the men who recorded it. I grew up listening to these guys in their prime, and knew even then that their backgrounds, experiences, and outlook on life were inexorably intertwined with my own, and of millions of other midwestern American kids, simply as a result of shared social and geographic circumstances. Even today I can drive just a few hours down the road and see the farmhouse Kerry Livgren makes his music in, or across the highway to a summer festival and see the band's current lineup live in concert. There is a cultural closeness that is not possible with artists like Yes, King Crimson, ELP, or Genesis. These guys are ours, and we love them. For that reason this is an essential album for men and women who identify with the music of Kansas, and an excellent experience to be shared with the more open-minded of our progressive music brethren.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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