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Kansas - Song For America CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.14 | 685 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars This, the group's bold second album, reveals great strides in studio experience and maturity. Because of increased visibility and radio play this record sold a quarter of a million units and set them up for even more success with their future releases. Oh, and the excellent cover art didn't hurt, either.

The album starts with a very un-prog boogie, "Down the Road," that features violinist Robby Steinhardt getting down and dirty on vocals. Perhaps the powers-that-be (label head Don Kirshner, maybe?) suggested they kick things off with a more radio-friendly rocker before unleashing the synthesizers. In that sense it works well as an opener because every virtuoso gets a lead and it definitely rocks. Then comes the album's stunning high point, "Song for America." In my limited knowledge of Kansas' repertoire I consider it their best song ever. Written by their musical jack-of-all-trades Kerry Livgren, it is grandiose and majestic without ever becoming pompous. The performance is flawless and the arrangement couldn't be improved upon. The song describes the initial raw beauty of the land, then how the multitudes of settlers from all corners of the earth invaded and ravaged it over the years. Still, the lyric turns optimistic in the end with "So we rule this land/and here we stand upon our paradise/dreaming of a place/our weary race is ready to arise." This healing message came at a time when Americans were still recovering from the schisms caused by Vietnam and it endeared many to this group for that reason alone. Another Livgren tune, "Lamplight Symphony," starts promisingly but then bogs down in an arrangement that is over- convoluted. It also has a middle section that is too reliant on the Moog synthesizer and ARP strings, taking away from what otherwise is a fine melody. "Lonely Street" could also have been called "Blues in 11/8." It's an interesting variation on the southern slow shuffle and features a very strong vocal by Steve Walsh. It works well as a solid rocker. "The Devil Game" is more like the album's namesake and is another favorite of mine. This one is written by Walsh and bassist Dave Hope and benefits greatly from a very tight and powerful performance by the whole band. It's about the sinful temptations that the "horned one" presents and the singer asks, "Has he offered you happiness, money or much better lays?" One gets the feeling that he's singing from personal experience. "Incomudro-Hymn to the Atman" is the closer, a spiritually themed composition from Livgren. It also starts strong but, unfortunately, can't keep up the momentum. Walsh turns in a nice organ solo and the group excels at taking the song through some interesting tempo changes but then they overindulge in synthesizers again. The ARP was a popular and novel instrument in the mid 70s but its thin sound really hasn't aged well and it makes the whole sequence seem very dated. Phil Ehart's drum solo tells me that this tune was written or altered to be an impressive show-ender for their stage performances but it doesn't work well as a studio piece.

While my overall impression is that it's kinda hit and miss, the magnificent "Song For America" is well worth the price of the album alone. I heard Kansas perform it a few months after 9/11 and it received an enthusiastic standing ovation, proving it continues to have great power over thirty years on. I actually consider this effort to be a 3.5 but I have no problem giving it 4 stars because of that ten-minute opus alone.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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