Proto-Kaw - Before Became After

Year of Release: 2004
Label: InsideOut Music America
Catalog Number: IOMACD 2075-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 61:06:00

Before Became After, the second album from Proto-Kaw, is a marvelous release. Proto-Kaw is the Kansas that came before the Kansas we came to know. The Early Recordings... album covered that period. This album is a mix of pieces written during those early days but not recorded, four of the ten tracks, and new material written for this release, this band. And though there is still a Kansas, with Kerry Livgren not an active member (at least not an active active member), this now becomes his "after." Thus, Before Became After.

What makes it marvelous is, like the best Kansas albums, the music is a rich tapestry of sound and detail - of guitars (Livgren; also keys, vocals, and percussion), bass (Craig Kew), drums (Brad Schulz), keyboards (Dan Wright) and vocals (Lynn Meredith). And in place of violin, it's sax and flute (John Bolton). It's both epic and intimate, warm without being fuzzy, playful yet pointed, uplifting, adult without being old... basically, everything you'd want out of... music. Meredith has a marvelous voice, one that, yes, will make you on occasion think of Steve Walsh, but not entirely. The arrangements can be lush and sweeping; one of my favourite moments comes towards the end of the very first song, the darkly churning "Alt. More Worlds Than Known," where there is a lovely swirling symphonic keyboard passage that just puts thrilling chills up my spine, as Meredith plaintively sings. The Native American culture is present in "Leaven," in the rhythms and backing vocals, though the song itself doesn't have that has theme (and I don't want to overlook the fantastic keyboard work of Wright). In fact, you can hear hints throughout the album (another strong example is "Heavenly Man"). And there's the epic, heavy, ballsy-ily arranged, cynically worded "Greenburg, Glickstein, Charles, David, Smith and Jones," about corporate greed. And yes, they do make what would seem like an awkward phrase to sing work, in harmony. "Words Of Honor" is a power-ballad in construction; inspirational and motivational in theme. It features a signature guitar solo from Livgren, his tone and phrasing unmistakable from his Kansas days.

"Axoltol" is another epic, dark and swirling, with lighter contrasts of trilling flute and tinkling piano, and more swirling symphonic keyboard washes. And there's the jazzy, breezy "Quantum Leapfrog" that dances around you playfully, like an irreverent wind. Sax, guitar and airy keyboards are the most dominant. (I can imagine this will be track where live the band will give each member a chance to solo, it's built perfectly and, naturally, for that). And lovely is a word that describes "Gloriana," though maybe "glorious" would be more appropriate. The piece is somewhat balladic, and I have to say, during the verses, I thought a bit of mid-period Billy Joel. Not that Meredith sounds like Joel, though how he delivers the lines is why I thought that.* In the same way, I suppose that Bolton's flute work here for a time reminds me of Ian Anderson. "Occasion Of Your Honest Dreaming" is a lively, upbeat, happy, catchy piece (reminds me at times of Santana's "Winning"). The arrangement may be all that, but lyrically it's not... there's a certain darkness to it.

At the outset of "Theopany," the 11-plus minute epic that closes the album, it has kind of a medieval feel, owing to the keyboards which occasionally sound like stylized horns (those long fluted brass instruments we associate with medieval times, the trumpeters trumpets from the ramparts as the king is making his appearance). But beyond this, the piece has many moods, some of them very, very dark and moody, all set in subdued tones and very deliberate pace. Tempos and moods shift on a dime, so saying this piece is any one thing isn't easy, and yet these transitions are easy, natural and unhurried - and yet, the piece glides by so smoothly, you hardly think more than a couple of minutes have gone by. Livgren's guitar cuts across it all, sometimes sounding quite... heavenly.

I first received a pre-release promo version of this album from InsideOut which features one fewer track and one different track - there's no "Greenburg..." or "Words Of Honor" and it includes "It Moves You" (which is on the bonus CD of the 2-Disc Special Edition). (Most of the review is of the post-release promo sent by the PR firm). "It Moves You" is a little more poppish than the other material, but still quite good. It's much lighter and brighter in feel throughout, as fits the lyrics. Even more so than "Occasion..."

Again, I have to say this is a marvelous album; certainly one of my favourites for 2004, and yet again I'm slapping myself silly over not moving this up in the queue to listen to. I can imagine their NEARfest 2005 pre-show performance will be just as marvelous, if not more so. And news as of this writing says they've already begun work on their next CD due out Summer 2005.

[* on this particular track, I also thought of Pilgrym... and think that Andy Wells sounds like Lynn Meredith. It struck me mostly with the very last phrases in the verses "were they only part of the show." ]

Also released by InsideOut (IOMCD 159/ SPV 085-60652) in a regular and special edition (SPV 087-60650 CD/IOMSECD 159)

Promo CD Tracklisting: Alt. More Worlds Than Known (7:28) / Leaven (8:26) / Axolotl (for lack of a better name) (6:04) / Quantum Leapfrog (5:42) / Gloriana (9:07) / The Occasion Of Your Honest Dreaming (3:38) / Heavenly Man (5:53) / It Moves You (4:26) / Theophany (11:42)

Final Release Tracklisting: Alt. More Worlds Than Known (7:28) / Words Of Honor (4:28) / Leaven (8:26) / Axoltol (6:04) / Quantum Leapfrog (5:42) / Greenburg, Glickstein, Charles, David, Smith and Jones (3:05) / Gloriana (9:07) / Occasion Of Your Honest Dreaming (3:38) / Heavenly Man (5:53) / Theopany (11:42)

Special Edition bonus disc: Belexes (live) (8:08) / It Moves You (4:26) / Words Of Honor (Single Edit) (3:18) / Proto-Kaw Video Interview (13:44)

Kerry Livgren - guitar, piano, keyboards, percussion, background vocals
Lynn Meredith - vocals, narration
Dan Wright - organ, keyboards, percussion, background vocals
Craig Kew - bass, background vocals
Brad Schulz - drums

Recordings from Kansas - 1971 -1973 (2002)
Before Came After (2004)
The Wait Of Glory (2006)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: April 5th 2005
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1279
Language: english


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