KANSAS - Another Fork In The Road
March 22, 2023, 3 months ago
Three CD set celebrating 50 years of the band, coinciding with a US tour in 2023, covering fourteen (of sixteen) albums from the debut in 1974 to The Absence Of Presence in 2020; the fourth studio album without original member lead singer and keyboardist Steve Walsh who retired in 2014. Unfortunately, like some Greatest Hits, Best Of compilations, this anthology also does not account for all the albums, but liner notes and details like what album each song is from, who wrote what and who played on the songs, plus various pictures over the years are included.
Chronologically the discs start in the present, an updated version of "Can I Tell You" from the self-titled debut in 1974. Both sound virtually the same just the 2022 recording a bit clearer, defined bass and vocal harmonies. Keyboards, violin, guitars smoothly bring in the title track's melody to the 2020 album (second with singer/keyboards Ronnie Platt) with everything dropping out to just vocals and piano in the verse. A quality Kansas does well within their progressive rock arrangements.
Same with the keyboard and guitar solo tradeoff. Just prog enough without losing the essence of the song. "Throwing Mountains", sonically, is basically Dream Theater prog metal with a violin. Three are taken from The Prelude Implicit from 2016 which as soon as you hear the voice with the music on "Crowded Isolation" sounds like a Fates Warning song, Ray Alder era. That's not a bad thing, total compliment.
"Summer" has an upbeat romp, while "The Voyage Of Eight Eighteen" is an eight minute journey. Three from Somewhere To Elsewhere (2000), piano begun "Icarus II", ballad "The Coming Dawn", and "Distant Vision" with cascading keys/piano. Disc one ends with two from each of the ‘90s albums, "Dust In The Wind" taken from Always Never The Same re-recordings with the London Symphony Orchestra, the songs off Freaks Of Nature a little more edge, "Under The Knife" the better choice.
Disc two should have started with a song from 1988's In The Spirit Of Things, then the rocking Power album from 1986 with Steve Morse on guitar, both though are out of the norm for Kansas, dated with its catchy riffs, AOR keyboards melodies. Still enjoyable, very Journey, Styx Foreigner, but I can see how one of those tracks wouldn't fit amongst the rest. So skip right to the hit single "Fight Fire With Fire" from the 1983 album Drastic Measures which is really no different than the straight forward rock they did on the above mentioned commercial MTV geared albums.
So, why? The other two choices, "End Of The Age" and "Incident On A Bridge" again missing violin and the prog element. Well, both are a bit more related to the ‘70s songs in the use of keys and vocal harmonies. Three from the following year and Vinyl Confessions, piano begun ("Crossfire") single/video "Play The Game Tonight" perfect for the MTV era, part story part performance. On to Audio -Visions in 1980, violin, keyboard, and guitar riffs it’s more straight forward rock pulling back on the changes.
"Hold On", "Loner", although "Curtain Of Iron" and "No One Together" arrangements are back to those classic ‘70s compositions and musical dance. Three from Monolith (1979) ends the disc, "On The Other Side", violin begun "Angels Have Fallen", and "How My Soul Cries Out For You" all clocking in at six minutes.
The big hit, "Carry On Wayward Son" from the live album Two For The Show, opens disc three and the classic era first five albums. Once you hear those keyboards and violin on "Portrait (He Knew)" and "Sparks Of The Tempest", jammy nature between instruments is how those ‘70s albums had their own unique creativity. "Miracles Out of Nowhere" (Leftoverture, 1976) chorus stands out amongst the various sounds and strings, while the six-part movement "Magnum Opus" filled with peaks and valleys. "Icarus" and "Child Of Innocence" harder rock guitar driven choices from Masque the previous year.
You know that album artwork for Song For America and the bird. "Down For The Road" short and sweet, ten minute title track and "The Devil Game" fine picks to represent the album. "Death of Mother Nature Suite" dark and dramatic choice show the raw energy of the 74 debut which used all the elements Kansas are known for when writing a song.