Before Became After

Proto-Kaw

Inside Out Music, 2004

http://www.protokaw.com/

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/30/2008

After the “accidental” success of the band’s first release Early Recordings, the demand for new music from Proto-Kaw was loud and insistent. Fans wanted more, and they wanted to see the band perform. This would be a challenge to say the least, considering the band had split up 30 years earlier. As it turned out, the success of Early Recordings led to renewed friendships and, amazingly, a reunion. Kerry Livgren regrouped with four of the original Kansas members, Dan Wright (keys), John Bolton (woodwinds), Brad Schulz (drums) and vocalist Lynn Meredith, none of who were professional musicians. These guys had gone on to lead “normal” lives and raise families. The dream of careers in the music biz had long faded, but the passion to create was rekindled, and that fire burns brightly on this disc. To fill out the lineup, Kerry recruited bassist Craig Kew and his nephew Jake Livgren on keys and vocals, and they all went back into the studio to create this album. 

What would it sound like? Kerry plays with a lot of styles.  He not only wrote fresh tracks for the band, he also culled bits and pieces from their early ‘70s repertoire and reworked them with new sounds and lyrics. Their experimental progressive rock roots form the foundation of their sound, mixed in with a jam-band dynamic. The blending is a sonic masterpiece that should make any prog rock fan drool, a flawless fusion of progressive rock and modern groove. Musically, you'd think they never stopped playing together, never mind that they hadn’t even been in the same room together in three decades. Meredith's vocals are phenomenal. In his fifties, he sounds as good as Ian Gillian at 20, and he can hit the wailing high notes to prove it. Dan Wright is an amazing force; his keys are deft and full of shifting textures. John Bolton is as always, a key ingredient of their musical alchemy, whether he's belting it out on sax or adding fluid layers of sound on flute. And of course, Kerry's skills on guitar are second to none, and he plays with a power and authority you don't hear on a lot of his work. Why these guys didn't become the next Yes or Genesis is a known story, but one that leaves me scratching my head. If they had been in my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 London in 1972 instead of Topeka, Kansas...

The thing I love the most, excellent vocals aside, are the lengthy instrumental jams. The opening track “Alt.More Worlds Than Known,” the sprawling, psychedelic “Quantum Leapfrog” and the  brooding “Leaven” all feature amazing, tight jams with an improvisational feel, without ever meandering or losing focus. “The Occasion Of Your Honest Dreaming” is one of the unlikliest of songs for these guys, but stands out with a head-bobbing melody and tight vocal harmonies with a Crosby, Stills & Nash feel. Kerry was always known for throwing a curveball into his albums, and that one workes perfectly. “Words Of Honor” is a stirring plea for peace. Like many of Kerry's songs, he infuses it with his Christian ethos without preaching at you. The tracks "Gloriana" and "Thophany" express the same strong spiritual messge, but in a way that can apply to any philosophy of positivity and inner stregth. Encompassing all are Livgren's broad sonic strokes; hints of Ravel and Tchaikovsky share space with jazzy bass lines and driving rhythms. You can hear cues from his musical past as well, but these songs have far more groove than Kerry's “other band.”

Before Became After sounds like one of the finest achievements in progressive rock in the past 20 years. And the beauty is, it doesn't come off like a “Progressive Rock” album with the potential connotations of being artsy and inaccessible. It's full of great melodies and catchy hooks, and it rocks. A short tour would follow for those lucky enough to experience it, inducing a spot at NEARFest, the most prestigious annual progressive rock festival in the U.S. The quality and relevance of this album is a testament to the talent of the musicians. There are few modern bands that could produce music of this technical skill and quality, and these guys still have day jobs.

Rating: A

User Rating: A-


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