(All Album Reviews by Sean)
Picture this…. A singer from a well known classic rock band almost unknowingly decides to step outside of his persona in that band and make a solo album. In the process he creates an album that is so unlike anything you would expect from him that it takes his fans by surprise in a very appealing way.
That would be Steve Walsh of Kansas and the album in question is the finely crafted, sometimes disturbing, and very poignant, Glossolalia. The title means speaking in tongues and I think it is very fitting.
Glossolalia, is the culmination of many years songwriting. As best as I can remember Walsh had been writing tunes over the years and when the Magna Carta label approached him to do a solo album, he was ready. On the labels suggestion they hooked him up with Trent Gardner from Magellan. Gardner took Walsh’s songs and radically rearranged them, altered the instrumentation and basically stretched the songs into a whole new dimension along with Walsh. Gardner is the not so secret ingredient that helps make this album sound very relevant, very NOW sounding, rather than some classic rock retro-fest.
What Walsh and Gardner came up with was enough to make fans realize they surely weren’t in Kansas anymore! What the fans got was a musical wake up call of sorts. A diverse mix of styles, often in the same song, and hard-edged guitar work courtesy of Walsh’s former guitarist from the band Streets, Mike Slamer. His brand of metal-esque playing really sets this apart from what you would normally expect from a solo KS member album. Many of these songs are very HEAVY, at times bordering on thrash….nearly. But that is a welcome sound here. Normally it would reek of 80’s metaldom, but in the lush arrangements Gardner and Walsh created, it is only part of the picture. The songs are packed with unexpected tempo changes and swift left turns. Just when you think you know where the tune is leading, in many cases, it goes somewhere else. Progressive? Yes, moreso than a lot of bands that claim to be prog nowadays. Though Walsh never makes that claim, it’s clear that this music is dense enough to capture the minds and hearts of many a prog rock fan.
While I won’t even begin to describe each and every tune in detail here, there are a few that really stand out as epic cuts. The title track-“Glossolalia”, “Serious Wreckage”, “Kansas" and "Smackin’ The Clowns” all fall into that category, each between 5 and 10 minutes long and far ranging in musical scope.
The title track is a dense blend of thrashy guitars and vocals that quickly give way to ethereal moments that contrast sharply. The chorus is full tilt and I am amazed Walsh’s voice recovered from these ‘warrior cries’. The lyrics deal with what I believe to be the American Indian and white mans encroachment on their land and way of being. The fade out is really marvelous, it has an almost Arabic flavor.
“Serious Wreckage” starts with a plaintive vocal and solo piano. I have heard Walsh is a fan of Kate Bush and I think I feel that influence here in this part of the song. This song has a disturbing theme, drunk driving and it’s far reaching effects as a child leaves this world after what seems to be an impact from the driver. “I was driving in my a car, suddenly a child was standing there. It was dark on that street, but I can still see his face, and if I could right now, I’d surely take his place…” It’s never completely clear how all this came to be, but the vocals come from the drivers point of view during the aftermath. Soon the piano gives way to ominous strings and then a heavy guitar enters and the song slow builds to a rousing climax that leaves the narrator praying to “stay sober just one more day”. This is not biographical in any sense of the word, as Walsh has been asked a lot since the CD was released and he flatly denies it. But the lyrics on this album I think were a cleansing of sorts for Walsh, who has recently cleaned up his life and left drink behind for the first time in over 20+ years. This CD seems to be a real catharsis for him and in the process lends a serious tone that is very touching and adds a lot of substance.
“Kansas” is another epic number about the original struggle between the white man and the American Indian. The music is orchestral to a degree and downright haunting. It fits the lyrics perfectly and really conveys their somber tone. Some say this is the tune on the album that sounds most like Kansas as well. Personally I don’t hear it, but some swear they do.
“Smackin’ The Clowns” is probably the highlight track on the album. Another with disturbing imagery, this time about a day the circus came to a small town. The big top somehow caught fire and the people inside perished. This is supposedly a true story that occurred in Texas back in the 40’s (correct me if I am wrong). Musically it’s another wild ride of twists and turns and a variety of dynamic shifts. The descending line of the pre-chorus is one of my favorite moments on the whole CD. One of those goosepimply moments for sure.
The shorter tracks on the album are all very strong and range from tecnho-funk (“Heart Attack”), to quiet acoustic moments (“Nothing”), grand strings and near crooning (“Mascara Tears”), rock meets loops fun (“That's What Loves About”) and more.... The album is strong from front to back, no weak tracks here.
This album has also has a very broad appeal and I think not only fans of prog rock, but just fans of good music in general would find much to revel in here. It was not at all what I expected from Steve Walsh and in the end I think he takes a bold step forward as a writer, arranger and all around musician. His vision shared with Gardner’s became something really special. This CD is full of pleasant surprises…..
(All Album Reviews by Hunnibee)
WARNING! People who suffer from a heart condition or severe depression should listen to this CD with the greatest of caution!!!
When I first popped this disc in my CD player, I was waiting at a bus stop near the post office where I had received it. By the time the bus arrived, I was barely able to remain standing! I had been warned that this solo album by Steve Walsh would be a mind-boggling experience, and my fellow fans were right! I was stunned, in awe, and totally overwhelmed by the end of the first song!
I’m known for being critical of Steve’s songwriting skills. Perhaps I compare him to Kerry Livgren unfairly. Steve has not always had the same depth and insight as his former band-mate in the distant past. However, all that has changed in recent years! I am very pleased with Steve’s efforts on the Freaks of Nature and Always Never the Same CDs, but now he has gone a step...no, a LEAP...further to search the deepest, darkest depths of his soul. So much pain and agony are purged on this album, creating his most powerful material ever!
It’s very hard to describe Glossolalia, or ’Gloss’ as we die-hards affectionately call it, because it’s impossible to categorize its songs. It has a little bit of everything, from alternative to country to rap to where it turns you inside out and upside down! Fasten your seat belts...it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
The first song is the title track, and it rips your brain into shreds immediately with its sharp death-metal edge. Before you have time to recover, you are sent into emotional despair in “Serious Wreckage”, and then tossed onto a dance floor in a disco-rap thriller called “Heart Attack”. Listen to the way Steve’s voice cracks in “Serious Wreckage” (a song about a drunk driver who has killed a child) with the line "Don’t tell me it’s alright, don’t tell me it’s going to be fine." If you still have any sanity left, you suddenly realize this is Steve Walsh...sweet, little "Dust-In-the-Wind" Stevie from Kansas! We always knew he had a dark side, but this is very extreme!
The song “Kansas” continues the emotional roller coaster as a beautiful, eerie tribute to American Indians. This song is humbling, but it is a familiar theme to me, having grown up amongst Alaska’s native population. The music and the mood in this song are amazing, especially the piano and drums...in fact, the whole composition is breathtaking! Its spooky ending shocked me at first, but now I’m used to it. Don’t play this song around small children...the angry voice will give them nightmares! Read the lyrics to them instead. (Or even better, read the book "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" to them!)
While the shock of Kansas still resonates in your bones, the countryish “Nothing” brings you down real fast. It is so bleak and depressing, you almost want to skip it, but by now you’re addicted, sucked into the twisted anguish that Steve is expressing. This song will make you feel helpless, unable to ease his pain.
Next we have my favorite track on the album, “Haunted Man”! This song pulled me in the first time I heard it because of the deep, tortured lyrics, but when I noticed him screaming in the background, I literally gasped out loud! (Lord knows what my fellow bus riders thought of me, sitting there with my eyes round as saucers and my jaw on the floor!) The desperation in this song is very compelling and traumatic. If you are an empathetic person, you will have a difficult time holding back tears.
If that one doesn’t convince you of Steve’s deep misery, get ready for a punch in the stomach! “Smacking the Clowns”, a song about a circus burning down, is a tale that will haunt you for the rest of your life. You will be on the floor in a fetal position by the time his voice cracks during the line..."Maybe the old cliché isn’t far from true. Maybe there’s a silver lining." I go into a cold sweat just thinking about this song, even when I’m not playing it! I am totally serious and sincere when I say that this is the best piece of work Steve has ever done in his entire musical career!
Finally, we get some relief with a change of mood! “That’s What Love’s All About” is a fun, funky, hard-rocking love song that makes you want to jump up and dance! (I actually do in my living room!) It’s a very sexy song, and it gives me a delicious chill up my spine whenever I hear it. Play this song LOUD...it deserves to be heard by your neighbors!
Just when you’re hoping that the positive vibe will carry on, along comes a depressing, bittersweet ballad to bring you down again. By the time you are halfway through the bluesy “Mascara Tears”, you won’t know whether to commit suicide or run out and have sex with the nearest suitable partner! Your mind will be lost, caught in a vortex that offers no escape! Great piano work here, by the way. Steve has never lost his great keyboarding skills!
Finishing out the album is a more relaxing, sensual song called “Rebecca”. As an English major, I appreciate this nod to a great novel. I especially love the gurgling sounds at the beginning, as if Steve actually were underwater..very chilling! (I recommend the original Hitchcock movie to curious listeners.)
I can’t end this review without giving great applause to Mike Slamer, the lead guitarist on this remarkable album! What cave has he been living in, that the world knows virtually nothing about him?! How can any human being play guitar the way he does on “Smacking the Clowns”, much less any of the other songs on Gloss? (Mike Slamer also played guitar for Steve's former band, Streets, and currently plays guitar for Seventh Key.)
Congratulations, you have survived Glossolalia! As a prize, you get your sanity back, but you are a changed person forever. This album is much better than a day at Disneyland! With one amazing song after another, you are laughing one minute and crying the next. I try not to play this too often to keep its shock value fresh, but sometimes, I just can’t help myself...it’s too addictive! (I once played it twice in one day and could not sleep that night!)
More than ever now, Steve Walsh has my deepest respect and admiration, not just as a musician and songwriter, but also as a human being. I used to roll my eyes while listening to his cheesy songs on the Power and In the Spirit of Things albums, but the man has totally grown, changed, and matured now. In October 2003, I was honored by getting his signature on the Gloss CD booklet after a concert in Tacoma, Washington. It's a keepsake I will always treasure!