Kansas - Kansas

Year of Release: 1974
Label: Kirshner/CBS
Catalog Number: ZK 32817
Format: LP
Total Time: 44:52:00

Kansas' debut album was released in 1974, and was a shot across the bow of the marauding English starship troopers that were laying waste to the countryside. In that year, progressive rock was still the musical force to be reckoned with in the USA, and ELP, Tull and Yes were filling stadiums across the land. America had as yet produced no real progressive rock scene to match the waves of symphonic progressive rock that were flooding the land from Europe, and the time was right for a band to strike out and step forward to carry the banner of progressive rock to the heartland of America

Kansas's first album struck out in a number of directions. The band covered full tilt boogie and southern rock, ala The Allman Brothers, heavy, guitar and organ led rock and symphonic progressive rock with Yes quality vocals harmonies and contrapuntal melody and arrangements that hearkened to the sound of ELP and Gentle Giant. The really amazing thing is that they did them all very well, but none so well as the magnificent "Journey From Mariabronn" which graces this release, and is one of Kansas' greatest achievements.

On this album Kansas would lay out virtually all their cards, and the prototypes of much of their later work could be heard on this work. From the very first notes of "Can I Tell You" it was clear that Kansas was a musical powerhouse, and the eclectic menu served up on this amazing debut only further demonstrated this fact. Another important aspect of this release is the presence of Robbie Steinhardt and his violin. Jethro Tull gained endless column inches in the press by virtue of Ian Anderson and his flute, a non standard rock instrument, and Kansas would get a fair amount of press as well by featuring a singing violinist in their line up. This debut. would give Robbie plenty of space to show off his chops and to demonstrate the utility of orchestral instruments used within the standard rock ensemble. No later release would give so much space to Steinhardt's violin or, for that matter, his lead vocals. Beginning with Song For America, Steve Walsh would become the dominant lead vocalist, but for now Robbie was the focus of the band, instrumentally (though Walsh's B-3 solos would come in a strong second) and vocally.

Perhaps this band, with a bit of luck, would flourish and bring progressive rock home to the USA. Well, that is exactly what happened, though the band must be given the credit for making their own luck, with a non-stop tour schedule for the first couple of years creating the kind of fan base that was essential to breaking in a new band and moving from being a cult favorite to a nationally known and successful act.

This album's first cut, "Can I Tell You," gave the listeners all the clues that were needed to understand what Kansas was, and where they would go with their ideas. This track begins with instrumental harmony lines, power chords from distorted electric guitar, heavy B-3 organ and clarion lead vocals. While somewhat unsophisticated when compared to later compositions, it still drives along in the fast lane, and bristles with energy and power. Steinhardt, Walsh, and drummer Phil Ehart all shine on this cut.

The second track, "Bringing It Back," is a J.J.Cale cover, and shows the non-progressive side of Kansas well. I am not familiar with J.J.Cale's work, so please forgive me if I describe this song as sounding similar to Dr .John or Little Feat. Lyrically, this is an ode to the seventies, and the danger of international trade and transport of controlled substances. These first two cuts would give us plenty of ripping work on the violin, and Robbie's lead vocal on "Bringing It Back" are among the strongest he ever provided to the band.

The third track was "Lonely Wind," the first example of Kansas's impressive ability with ballads. Ballads are, in my humble opinion, something to be skipped over on many releases, maudlin and overly precocious, and just plain lame in many cases. That is a pitfall Kansas avoided, and the overwhelming majority of the ballads written by the band are very substantial and musically enjoyable, including "Lonely Wind." This tune is a Walsh composition, and it begins the tradition of simple yet heartfelt expressions of faith in Kansas' lyrics, always strong and honest, yet never strident or preachy. The song is constructed and benefits from a clear and powerful theme and variations. The instrumental interlude climbs in intensity and climaxes with a beautiful crescendo of violin and harmony vocals.

Track four, "Belexes," was a mixture of the band's hard rock roots and its progressive rock aspirations. This tune features a galloping hard rock beat and power chords and distorted guitar playing a melodic harmony with Walsh's B-3, ornamented with Steinhardt's screaming violin. Walsh handles the lead vocal of this number, and proves why he was one of progressive rock's great lead vocalists, and one of the best singers of any rock music genre, period.

"Belexes" was followed by one of the best tracks ever recorded by Kansas, the brilliant "Journey From Mariabronn." This was Kansas's first full-on symphonic rock masterpiece, and the song has so many strong elements and themes, it goes beyond any simple analysis. This song provides the paradigm for the great works of the future, and introduces the writing style that would produce the wonderful songs of Kansas's early discography. We would hear the sound of the Kansas melodic solo cycle (see my review of Kansas's Song For America for a more detailed examination of this element of their style) and also hear the first expression of Walsh's absolutely overpowering vocal style, the last line of the vocals being a particularly good example, as he sings the line: "Destiny fulfilled, their words will burn an eternal flame," and sings out the lines last notes with a strength and sustain that was seldom heard in vocalists even in the musical hothouse of the 1970s, and, frankly, never matched by singers these days. This song is reason enough to add this debut to your CD collection, and it still thrills me every time I hear it, thirty years down the road now.

Track six is a southern rocker, "The Pilgrimage." This is a great, but relatively straight forward tune with very satisfying harmony vocals from Walsh and Steinhardt. The tune will remind the listener of The Allman Brothers Band, Wet Willie, and Marshall Tucker, but it is by no means out of place on this release. Robbie's violin is the star of the track, like many of the songs on this album, and it sets the stage well for the final numbers on this album, two more progressive rock standouts, "Apercu" and "Death Of Mother Nature Suite." These cuts are linked, with the final notes of "Apercu" exploding into the closer, "Death Of Mother Nature Suite," which presents another of Kansas's favourite lyrical topics, the degradation of the natural environment. "Apercu" is Kansas at their best, with frequent use of time and tempo changes, and well developed musical themes, showing a group of outstanding players and arrangers. The level of instrumental virtuosity displayed here is jaw dropping, and on either side of the Atlantic, there were few that could even hope to approach Kansas's mastery of their craft.

"Death Of Mother Nature Suite" was a brooding tune that alternated between restrained beauty and raw rock fury. It featured some of the best backing vocals I'd ever heard, and they are still amongst the most the most perfect that I can think of. Listen to the harmonies that underlie Robbie's violin solo, beginning at two minutes and twenty one seconds into this track and tell me you don't agree. Go ahead and disagree, just try! The solo cycle that appears in this song contains one of Walsh's outstanding, earth shaking, B-3 solos, and proves once again that he was unequalled on the dual manual keyboards of the mighty Hammond organ. No one in the USA, and few in England could match the fire and expressiveness of his style. Of his contemporaries, only Keith Emerson and Eddie Jobson could surpass him when it came time to whip out a solo on the B-3.

All in all, this album is an outstanding debut, a brilliant display of song writing and musicianship, and a great statement of Kansas's musical ethos. This is a must have for any collector of seventies symphonic rock, or American rock music in general. Kansas would, in my opinion, produce four albums of absolutely essential progressive rock, and this release is the foundation of that body of work.

Can I Tell You / Bringing It Back / Lonely Wind / Belexes / Journey From Mariabronn / The Pilgrimage / Apercu / Death Of Mother Nature Suite

Phil Ehart ? drums
Dave Hope ? bass
Kerry Livgren ? lead and rhythm guitar, piano, organ, Moog synthesizer, vocals
Robbie Steinhardt ? violin, lead vocals and harmony
Steve Walsh ? organ, piano, congas, lead vocals and harmony
Rich Williams ? guitar

Kansas (1974)
Song For America (1975)
Masque (1975/2001)
Leftoverture (1976/2001)
Point of Know Return (1977/1984/2002)
Two For The Show (1978)
Monolith (1979)
Audio Visions (1980)
Vinyl Confessions (1982)
Drastic Measures (1983)
The Best Of Kansas (1984)
Power (1986)
In The Spirit Of Things (1988)
Carry On (1990)
Live At The Whisky (1992)
Box Set (1994)
Freaks of Nature (1995)
Always Never The Same (1998)
King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Kansas (1998)
Definitive Collection (1999)
Best Of Kansas (altered re-release) (1999)
Somewhere To Elsewhere (2000)
Live! Extended Versions (2000)
The Ultimate Kansas (2002)
Device-Voice-Drum (2002)
In Concert (2003)
Sail On: The 30th Anniversary Collection 1974-2004 (2004)
On The Other Side (2005)
Kansas: Extended Versions (2005)
Works In Progress (2006)
Super Hits (2007)
Discover Kansas (2007)
There's Know Place Like Home (2010)

Best Of Kansas Live (VHS) (1982)
Live At The Whisky (VHS) (1995)
Device Voice Drum (DVD) (2002)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: May 2nd 2004
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Artist website: www.kansasband.com
Hits: 1682
Language: english


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