Song For America


Kirshner, 1975

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk


When Kansas was preparing their second recording, Song For America, the folks at Kirshner Records encouraged the band to create some radio-friendly singles. So, when they got an album of only six songs, with two of the tracks coming in at over ten minutes each, they undoubtedly raised an eyebrow. The band's take on it was they wrote what inspired them, and anything else was compromise. As on their debut, their love of British prog and Livgren's ability to write symphonic rock fueled by a core of traditional rock stylings would be their template.

The label might have been disappointed in the lack of an obvious single, but the album would eclipse their debut in cohesiveness and sales and build on the momentum of their debut.  Kansas had established themselves as the original American progressive rock band. There just wasn't anything like them this side of the Atlantic. Their combination of guitar-driven rock and complex prog seemed to appeal to listeners who might enjoy the dynamics of progressive rock but were confounded by its esoteric and eclectic nature. In any case, it certainly made them unique. American audiences were taking notice, and their relentless touring would galvanize their reputation, though it would be a couple of years before they found the kind of recognition and success enjoyed by their British counterparts.

This album would further reveal the lyrical qualities hinted at in the first release. Kerry Livgren displayed a knack not only for writing memorable music, but also for penning thought-provoking and eloquent lyrics as well. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 SFA touches on themes of spirituality and the environment, themes that Livgren would revisit throughout his career, and features the lyrically lovely but eerie “Lamplight Symphony,” a surprisingly tender Gothic love story. “Lamplight Symphony” and the title track are extended multi-faceted songs that feature dynamic orchestral themes with the band’s signature harmonizing arrangements, syncopated instrumentation, and big soaring passages full of bright keyboard flourishes and highlighted by lively solos.  “Song For America” became a concert staple and the band opened most of their shows with it for the next three decades

The album kicks off with one of the band’s ubiquitous high-powered rockers. “Down The Road” is a full-tilt boogie reminiscent of Southern rockers like Little Feat or the Allman Brothers. Robbie Steinhardt leads the charge with some furious shredding on violin, dueling it out with Livgren's guitar. Steinhardt was an ace in the hole that set Kansas apart from their American contemporaries and put them in a position to capitalize on their unique sound. “The Devil Game,” a blistering number penned by Steve Walsh and Dave Hope, nicely married hard rock with prog and some killer vocal harmonies while capitalizing on the violin sound. Kansas could rock heavy like proto-metal bands such as Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, and still create complex yet accessible progressive numbers that didn't collapse into excessive instrumental noodling or leave the crowd scratching their head.

The closing number “Inccomudro: Hymn To The Atman” should put to rest any speculation as to the group’s ability to go toe-to-toe with the British prog bands. It’s a twelve-minute tour-de-force that Livgren wrote during Kansas' formative years  and weaves multiple music themes; bassist Dave Hope provides a heavy foundation that anchors the extended moog/hammond organ duet between Livgren and Walsh. Throughout the many time signatures and melodic themes, the song stays cohesive. Livgren has a gift for creating these kinds of complex, sprawling numbers without losing focus. “Incummdro” is a tight, powerful number with an intensity that builds to a thundering crescendo.

SFA builds nicely on their first release and includes some of the band’s most progressive and masterful compositions ever. This disc has an honored place in my collection, alongside the best of Yes, Genesis, and the rest of the British prog giants. It’s still a bit dyslexic in style, but understandably so. In 1975 you had to get heard on the radio, which meant that you had to appeal to the public at large. Also at work were the two dominant songwriters: Walsh, who favored more traditional rock, and Livgren, who was enamored of classical composers and English prog. A  more lyrically rich and mature album than their debut, Song For America truly shows the band’s growth and progression, and offers great promise of things yet to come.

Rating: A

User Rating: A


Great review. Thanks for taking on this vastly underappreciated band -- and American icon! One of -- if not THE -- most underrated bands in rock history.

© 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 Kirshner, and is used for informational purposes only.