Sunday, 15 January 2017

"Leftoverture" by KANSAS (2001 Epic/Legacy 'Expanded Edition' CD - Darcy Proper and Suha Gur Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...More Than I Can Measure..."

Prog Rock - and American Prog Rock at that - wasn't supposed to have the words 'monster chart hit' written anywhere on its dense playlist. And yet after three 'crawling-up-the-lower-200' albums and many years of touring slog - Topeka's KANSAS finally broke through in 1976 with a bona-fide radio-friendly bruiser "Carry On Wayward Son" – a very Boston-sounding complex rocker that's played today - 41 years after the event.

Signed stateside to Kirshner Records - their self-titled debut "Kansas" troubled the US charts in June 1974 at No. 174 while March 1975's "Song For America" did better at No. 57 - but December 1975's "Masque" dipped back down to No. 70. It was time for a do-or-die change - and with Guitarist and Principal songwriter Steve Walsh suffering from writer's block - up stepped KERRY LIVGREN who penned five of Leftoverture's songs and co-wrote the other three. And it worked. The hit single made a hit album (both doing a storm of business) which meant that their next and even better platter "Point Of Know Return" went one higher to No. 4 in October 1977 - impressive statistics for an American Prog Rock band in the late Seventies.

Which brings us to this fab-sounded CD remaster on Sony’s Legacy imprint. Let's "Carry On Wayward Son" to the Magnum Opus details...

UK released June 2001 (May 2001 in the USA) - "Leftoverture" by KANSAS on Epic/Legacy 502479 2 (Barcode 5099750247921) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster of their 4th studio album plus Two Previously Unreleased Bonus Tracks and plays out as follows (55:21 minutes):

1. Carry On Wayward Son
2. The Wall
3. What's On My Mind
4. Miracles Out Of Nowhere
5. Opus Insert [Side 2]
6. Questions Of My Childhood
7. Cheyenne Anthem
8. Magnum Opus
(a) Father Padilla Meets The Perfect Gnat
(b) Howling At The Moon
(c) Man Overboard
(d) Industry On Parade
(e) Release The Beavers
(f) Gnat Attack
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 4th studio album "Leftoverture" - released October 1976 in the USA on Kirshner JZ 34224 and December 1976 in the UK on Epic S EPC 82718 (reissued February 1977 on Kirshner S KIR 82718). Produced by JEFF GLIXMAN - the LP peaked at No. 5 on the US Rock charts (didn't chart in the UK).

BONUS TRACKS (Previously Unreleased):
9. Carry On Wayward Son (Live, 1977 at Pine Knob in Wisconsin)
10. Cheyenne Anthem (Live, December 1977 at The Palladium in New York)

BOBBY STEINHARDT – Lead and Backing Vocals, Violin and Viola
STEVE WALSH – Lead and Background Vocals, Organ, Piano, Vibes and Synths
KERRY LIVGREN – Lead Guitar, Piano, Moog, Clavinet, Oberheim and ARP Synth
RICH WILLIAMS – Lead Guitar and Acoustic Guitar
PHIL EHART – Drums and Percussion

The 10-sided foldout inlay has excellent and informative liner notes from DAVID WILD (Contributing Editor to Rolling Stone) – lyrics to all the songs – a live snap of the boys in full-on serious-musician mode and the six portrait photos of the band that came with original Kirshner LPs (facsimile artwork front and rear too). But all that is small beer to the gorgeous sound...

There’s a 'Producer's Note' from Jeff Glixman about the transfers and Remaster. He advises that the original vinyl format left audio compromises with an album running to nearly forty-five minutes - no such problem with the freshened-up CD. Done by DARCY PROPER and SUHA GUR from original master tapes - the Audio is a huge improvement - the synth-and-piano-bop of "Questions Of My Childhood" now leaps out of your speakers - those violin moments and girly chorus on "Cheyenne Anthem" - it's all so good. But it's a damn shame someone didn't think to include the obvious 7" single edit of "Carry On Wayward Son" - at 3:26 minutes - there was plenty of room. Still there is that 'live' version from the period that’s new...

When the voices sing "...don’t you cry no more..." as "Carry On Wayward Son" slithers in – you’re in no doubt about the clarity of the Remaster. At 5:25 minutes as opposed to 3:26 minutes - I can never make up my mind whether or not I prefer the full album version to the zippy 7” single edit (it rose to No. 11 on the US singles chart in February 1977 but would have to wait for a reissue in the UK in May 1978 on Kirshner S KIR 4932 to chart at a lowly 51). And I guess you would have to argue that songs like "Frankenstein" by the Edgar Winter Group (from way back in 1973 – another band on Epic) and more recently "More Than A Feeling" and "Long Time" by BOSTON – had smashed down the Prog Rock door for Kansas. The people were ready for dense guitar Rock. And don’t you just love those funky guitar breaks towards the end – brilliant.

Livgren wants to break down the dark barrier in relationships that is "The Wall" - while Kansas try for another guitar-hit with the catchy "What's On My Mind". That acoustic beginning to the 'dew drops' of "Miracles Out Of Nowhere" is very clear as are those synth-flourishes from Walsh. Side 2 is dominated by the near nine-minute "Magnum Opus" which looms in ominously before going into full-on Genesis - sounding at time like those big moments in "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway". As the guitar then grunges before softly segueing into piano plinkers - you're reminded of the musicality of Rush. "...Music is all for you..." he sings during the "Howling At The Moon" portion before they go all Gentle Giant on yer ass...

In truth the music of Kansas will not be for everyone in 2017 - but loyal fans will devour the transfer here and newcomers will see where modern day Prog acts got their inspiration/information from... Onwards my wayward sons to the "Point Of Know Return"...

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