[Review] Kansas (1974)

Add to the second wave of prog superstars Kansas, who make a name for themselves on this album.

Kronomyth 1.0: Kansas and Brahms.

Kansas had paid their dues by the time they were signed to Don Kirshner’s label and released their eponymous first album. The band had been touring in one form or another since 1970, appearing as an opening act for Queen, Mott the Hoople and, in an interesting bit of historical trivia, The Doors for their final show with Jim Morrison. Songwriter Wally Gold, who worked for Kirshner Records, “discovered” the band in 1973 and produced their debut album. The group had little experience in the studio and too little time, Gold was hardly a prog visionary, and what ended up on the first Kansas album was a snapshot of the band’s stageshow, which ranged from hard rock numbers to ten-minute epics. As such, it’s an imperfect portrait of a perfectly serviceable prog band.

Despite what could fairly be described as passages of musical pomp and songs that wouldn’t qualify as prog at all (“Lonely Wind,” a spirited cover of J.J. Cale’s “Bringing It Back”), Kansas is a near classic in the prog rock canon. The opening “Can I Tell You,” which reminds me of Curved Air (another band that prominently featured the violin), and “Journey From Mariabronn” (based on Herman Hesse’s novel, Narcissus and Goldmund) are career keepers. They may not be as famous as “Carry On Wayward Son” or “Dust in the Wind,” but they’re clearly the work of the same band. The remaining prog tracks are effective by degrees; “Aperçu” grows on you over time, and “Belexes” is as good as anything you’ll find on the early Rush albums.

Even slimmed down to a six-piece, Kansas is a bit unwieldy at times. The group lacked a proper lead singer (Steve Walsh and Robbie Steinhardt split the duties) and a true lead guitarist, roles on which most bands pinned their success. Walsh can sound shrill sometimes (“Belexes”), Steinhardt is more suited to Pigpen than prog. Livgren has since gone on record as saying that the studio recordings didn’t do the material justice, and you do get the sense that you’re probably not listening to the best possible version of “The Pilgrimage” and “Death of Mother Nature Suite.” Queen, by contrast, fell into the hands of more sympathetic producers (John Anthony, Roy Thomas Baker).

Leftoverture and Point of Know Return are the flagships of the fleet, but after that you may want to pick up Kansas. I would tell you that “Can I Tell You” and “Journey From Mariabronn” are worth the price alone. The group’s signature sound—bombastic arrangements laced with violin, fleeting passages of sublime proggery and a uniquely American earnestness—is already in place on Kansas. Like fellow countrymen Styx, smoother sailing was on the horizon…

Read more Kansas reviews

Original elpee version

A1. Can I Tell You (Rich Williams/Phil Ehart/Dave Hope/Steve Walsh) (3:32)
A2. Bringing It Back (J.J. Cale) (3:34)
A3. Lonely Wind (Steve Walsh) (4:17)
A4. Belexes (Kerry Livgren) (4:23)
A5. Journey From Mariabronn (Kerry Livgren/Steve Walsh) (7:58)
B1. The Pilgrimage (Kerry Livgren/Steve Walsh) (3:44)
B2. Aperçu (Kerry Livgren/Steve Walsh) (9:40)
B3. Death of Mother Nature Suite (Kerry Livgren) (7:55)

Expanded CD reissue bonus track
9. Bringing It Back (live) (J.J. Cale) (9:41)

The Players

Phil Ehart (drums), Dave Hope (bass guitar, vocals), Kerry Livgren (lead and rhythm guitar, piano, organ, Moog synthesizer, vocals), Robbie Steinhardt (violin, lead vocals and harmony), Steve Walsh (piano, organ, Fender Rhodes, congas, lead vocals and harmony), Rich Williams (guitar) with Jay Siegel (backing vocals on A3). Produced by Wally Gold; engineered by Don Turbeville.

The Pictures

Cover painting by John Steuart Curry. Cover design by Ed Lee.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track in June 1974 in the US (Kirshner, KZ/ZA 32817) and the UK (Epic, S EPC 80174) {yellow label} with lyrics innersleeve; reached #174 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record). 8-track features different track order.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1978 in the Netherlands (Kirshner, KIR 80174).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in the UK (Epic, EPC 80174) {blue label}.
  3. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in the US (Kirshner, PZ/PZT 32817) {w. barcode}.
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in 1991 in Europe (Epic, 468883 2).
  5. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2004 in the US (Epic, EK 92577) and Austria (Epic/Legacy, EPC 517143 2) with one bonus track.
  6. Re-released on 180g transparent vinyl elpee (Music on Vinyl, MOVLP2155) in limited edition of 2,000 copies.
  7. Re-issued on expanded compact disc on September 24, 2008 in Japan (Epic, EICP 1047) with one bonus track.

2 thoughts on “[Review] Kansas (1974)

  1. Are you familiar with Kerry Livgren’s post-Kansas work? He has an interesting story as an artist who worked in both the “secular” and “contemporary Christian” realms, which probably didn’t do much to forward his career. He recorded several albums, either under his own name or the band moniker AD, which were released to the Christian market during the 1980s. I can’t comment on “Seeds of Change” or “Timeline” (these are album titles, not songs — I don’t know how to generate italics in this comment window), but “Art of the State,” “Reconstructions” and “Prime Mover” all have their moments. Not sure how far they tip the prog scale (I’m no expert; I’d say they’re a kind of proggy pop along the lines of Alan Parsons Project). Livgren has recorded more projects since then, but I’d kinda moved after “Prime Mover.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JEuCSoYa1I&list=PLPcTOx34g9XTdpBsD5DO7446RTFjBFC5l&index=10&t=0s
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUMkxYR-OOw
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0NV3aWlVR4&list=PL3bwyhpgeENhpK7uOC9xRkY4hGTdR2ihL&index=6&t=0s
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AD_(band)

  2. No, but I’ve always meant to check out Proto-Kaw, which I guess is technically post-pre-Kansas. As a Christian, it’s shameful that I avoid Christian rock music, but I usually end up liking the message and not the music. It reminds me of this Dilbert comic: https://dilbert.com/strip/1992-01-09.

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