(All Album Reviews by Sean)
Kansas is a band that emerged nearly fully formed. Their self titled debut album carried all the trademarks of the bands sound. A blend of midwestern rock/pop tunes contrasted by progressive epics filled that LP and became a template for many Kansas albums to follow. The bands second album, Song For America (SFA), carries those elements but has a stronger emphasis on the bands progressive side. SFA has more epic length numbers than any other album in the bands catalog.
The album opens with "Down The Road", a fast paced midwestern rock tune that features a great deal of harmony work courtesy of guitarists Richard Williams and Kerry Livgren and violinist Robby Steinhardt. The harmonies are similar to the ones used by southern rock bands like The Allman Brothers, but here they take on a sound that doesn’t seem very southern, but more midwestern. All in the fingers I guess... This tune is still a concert favorite and one of the best tunes sung by Steinhardt.
Another concert fave, that is, in my honest opinion, the very finest song ever recorded by the band, the American progressive opus "Song For America". A whole thesis could be written on this songs arrangement and contour. In short, this number is far reaching in scope and depth and takes the listener on a fantastic musical journey. Easily Kansas' first masterpiece, SFA has more parts that Yes' "Close To The Edge", and is half the length! All flow beautifully from one to another. It doesn’t get any better than this folks! Forget “Carry On” and all the hits, while great songs, they pale in comparison to this epic! Penned by Livgren, this song is the favorite of hardcore Kansas fans and it's easy to see why.
How do you follow up something like that? It's not easy, but the band pulls it off by giving you yet another Livgren penned epic journey! This time it's a ghost story put to music. "Lamplight Symphony" tells the story of a man who wakes from his sleep. While he's up he gazes out the window at his wife's grave. Suddenly he is visited by an apparition- his wife's ghost! She comforts him and tells him that "someday they will be as one". And then fades away. All this is perfectly put to music, dramatic and very effective. Another prog gem.
Next up is the odd meter blues, "Lonely Street". This is more a band effort, writing wise. Livgren often brought songs in that were completed for the band to play, here the guys compose something without much (if any) of his input. This is another classic and shows that the band was full of great writers.
"The Devil Game" is a great little prog rock number, with an emphasis on the rock. One of the coolest songs penned mostly by singer/keyboardist Steve Walsh, with the help of bassist Dave Hope. A lot of contrast here between frilly, proggy sections and ones that are based around crunchy riffs.
Closing the album is another epic, and this one even has a kickass solo from drummer Phil Ehart! "Incomudro- Hymn To The Atman" is the longest number on the LP and a grand way to wrap things up. Atman means soul in case you’re wondering. An ominous synth line opens this number which gives way to a sparse verse sung sweetly by Walsh. Soon the big synth riff returns and the tune goes through some great odd meter sections (one is very march like) before reaching that drum solo I mentioned. After that more riffs and a verse... Lots to enjoy here!
This album is probably the best Kansas pick for prog rock fans. Forget what you have heard on the radio, there is much more to Kansas than the music they made after 1975. My advice? Start with the bands third album, Masque and work your way back through the catalog!