(All Album Reviews by Sean)
This cd is a compilation of tracks from Kerry Livgren's career after the band he helped found, Kansas, ended (albeit temporarily) in 1983. There is a mixture of old and new cuts and also old songs that have been rerecorded for this cd because of record label red tape.
Song-wise there are some really good pieces here. Don't look for epics like "Song For America", you won't find any music of that caliber or scope here. You will find some songs that are quite enjoyable though if not somewhat ambitious. If I have any gripe it is with the production rather than the songs. It is rather slick on some tracks. The lack of real bass guitar does not help either. Some tracks this is more obvious than others.
Tracks like the instrumental "Konelrad" and "Eerie Cove" are some of the stronger cuts here. Of the vocal cuts I really enjoyed "Exiles", with it's world music meets contemporary jazz opening. This is a really catchy number with an 80's pop tinge. The piano based middle section is tasteful, the phony horns on it are not. The drums here are rather canned sounding as well. This is what I meant by slick....
The previously unreleased "White Light", a nice piece of pop rock, fares a bit better in the production dept. About four minutes into this track we get one of the more Kansas like sections on this cd too. It is rather reminicent of some of the piano based interludes from Somewhere To Elsewhere. Tracks like "Timeline", and "Smoke is Rising" sound rather dated to my ears, more 80s-like tuneage. "On The Air" has good intentions but sort of plods along, it does have a tasty solo though.
The remakes of tunes from Kerry's first solo album Seeds of Change are strong songs, but I can think stronger songs that could have been selected from that album. Still, "To Live For The King" stands out as a soulful take on a Livgren classic. Vocalist Ronnie James Dio returns to sing the lead vocal, in the process he turns in what is the most inspired vocal performance on the cd.
How much does the band who plays a songwriters songs matter, or lack of one? In some cases a whole lot and I am afraid this is true for Livgren. One listen to these tracks and it is apparent that Livgren's songs on their own are very good, but what a band like Kansas (or really any full band) does with them once they play them takes them from being good to being great. His touch alone is not really the key. Only a spark that lights a group fire. As a matter of fact too much Kerry (or anyone for that matter) and not enough outside influence renders this collection rather flat and one dimensional on a sonic level. One man's sonic vision is interesting, but seems, to my ears to sound rather unfinished at times, sort of demoish, and certainly lacking the spark that collaborative tension can offer.
If you are a Livgren fan you will probably be over the moon for this collection. Chances are you will have most of the albums that these tracks are culled from though. If not, this would be a good entry point. If you are a Kansas fan who loves the progressive side of their sound I suggest hearing the cd in advance before you buy. There isn't much here that really sounds like classic Kansas. I imagine if some of these tunes were taken and molded by the hands of the whole band, like on their last album Livgren penned- Somewhere To Elsewhere, they could approach that sound and level of greatness though.
I suppose that was never the goal here, to serve up some Kansas like progfest. Maybe I am unfair in my hopes for an album like that from Kerry. As a career retrospective this cd does what it is intended to do though, it shows that Livgren is an able composer with a keen ear for melody.