Somewhere To Elsewhere

Kansas

Magna Carta Records, 2000

http://www.kansasband.com

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/23/2008

In 1999, Kansas drummer Phil Ehart was visiting with his old friend and  Kansas alum Kerry Livgren. Kerry played some demos he'd been working on, and the immediate reaction from Phil was “That sounds like classic Kansas.” They did, and the impetus for a reformation had begun. Armed with 10 original Livgren compositions, the current band (Ehart, Steve Walsh, Billy Greer, Robby Stienhartd and Rich Williams) in part at Kerry's studio outside of Topeka, and partly via e-mail, laid down the best music this band has created since the 70s. Livgren takes up his old slot with keys and guitar, and original bassist Dave Hope was coaxed out of retirement to add his skills as well.

Livgren's songs do indeed sound like classic Kansas, but this is no 70s rehash. It sounds totally up to date and not just a nostalgia trip. “Icarus II” is a perfect reintroduction to the power these guys can harness.  A bright piano intro gives way to soaring violin, and it feels like the Kansas of old. A heavy metal flavored “dogfight” section adds a nice touch. Livgren has always been a gifted lyricist and this is one of his best compositions. Into this song he not only weaves a tale of courage and sacrifice, but also mourns over why we fight at  all. This isn't a guts and glory tale. Overall it's a amazing track full of power and vision and every bit as good as anything they've ever recorded.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There is a strong thread of classic progressive rock throughout the disc. “Myriad” has the familiar time changes and morphing musical themes akin to classic tracks like “Song For America,” and a killer instrumental breakdown in the bridge. Leave it to Kerry to pull off a winner with a track about... math. Yes it's a song about math, and the relation of musical notation and calculations, that he pulls off brilliantly. This is not stretch after all, this is the guy who rocked out a song about Albert Einstein -- “Portrait (He Knew).” Taking on history in the showpiece track “Distant Vision,” Livgren considers the moral dilemma of Christopher Columbus from a spiritual perspective.  Kids, you can learn a lot listening to Kansas. The next time your parents tell you to turn the music down, crank up some Kansas and tell them it's educational. As I was saying, “Distant Vision”; if you're a classic rock fan, and the first 3 minutes if this song don't give you goosebumps, you might need CPR. And the next five minuets of it are pretty great as well.

Kansas has always been heavy with the keys and this album is no exception, but the guitars really get the spotlight throughout. The guitars are super-crisp and stand out on some of the best tracks. This works especially well on “When The World Was Young,” perfectly accompanying a wailing Walsh vocal. Livgren pulls out some really unique arrangements compared to his past work. “Look At The Time” is a really sharp mid-tempo rocker with a John Lennon feel to it that gives Billy Greer his first lead vocal on an album with Kansas. “Not Man Big” is a thumping rocker with a mob chorus made up of rabid Kansas fans (Hi Missy! Hi Bert!). Some quieter songs add nice depth to the album. Both “The Coming Dawn” and Byzantium are gorgeous and full of Livgren's lush orchestration. “Byzantium” is a song about loss and decay, and it smacks ominously of the 9/11 events that would occur a year later: “City resting on a hill / Can your walls repel the tides of change? / Did your golden domes reveal / The frailty of the consequence? The conqueror was real.”

Owning as I do every Kansas album ever released, and some that weren't, I feel justified in saying this one of their best albums ever, and one of the best progressive rock albums of the past decade.  The whole band sounds as tight as ever. Steve Walsh's voice is healthy and strong again, and the vocal harmonies are flawless. If you've been listening to Leftoverture and Point Of Know Return for a lot of years, like a lot of you have, you owe it to yourself to listen to this.

Rating: A

User Rating: B


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© 2008 Bruce Rusk and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Magna Carta Records, and is used for informational purposes only.