[Review] Kansas: Song For America (1975)

One foot in prog, another in hard rock, both kick butt on their second album.

Kronomyth 2.0: P-R-O-G in the U-S-A.

The band’s sophomore album brought former bandmate Jeff Glixman back into the fold as producer, but otherwise retains the hard rock/anglophile prog mixture of their debut. Highlights this time include the title track (with its obvious nods to Genesis), “Lamplight Symphony” and “Incomudro – Hymn to the Atman,” prog pieces from Kerry Livgren that run about ten minutes each. Sandwiched in between are hard rock songs that again demonstrate the split personality of the band’s principal creative forces, Livgren and Steve Walsh.

In the best prog bands (Yes, Genesis, ELP, etc.), the player/pieces fit together perfectly. That’s never been the case with Kansas. The group seemed reluctant to place both feet into either the hard rock or prog rock camps, and it’s hard to tell where their loyalties lie, which is important for progressive rock, at least in my opinion. It’s the very reason that bands like Procol Harum will never be proper prog bands: because, in order to be one, you have to want to be one. Kerry Livgren clearly wanted Kansas to be a prog band, but he drags the rest of the group along only by the strength of his compositions.

A few random thoughts on Song for America follow. Phil Ehart shines on this recording and makes a solid case for including his name more often in a list of rock’s best drummers. Rob Steinhardt disappears for much of the record after taking the lead vocals on the opening “Down The Road.” The band’s firstly overtly Christian song, “The Devil Game,” comes surprisingly from Steve Walsh and not Kerry Livgren. The title track continues the band’s historical view of America as an unspoiled paradise and Livgren’s lyrics in general suggest the earlier American naturalists. Both “Incomudro – Hymn to the Atman” and “Lamplight Symphony” point to an afterlife, though not necessarily in the traditional Christian sense. I did warn you they were random thoughts.

In figuring out where Song for America fits in the kanon of Kansas, I keep returning to Rush. In some ways, this is their Fly By Night, with the caveat that the first Kansas record was more self-assured than Rush! Joined by a more sympathetic producer in Glixman, Kansas would soon find their own voice, much as Styx was doing slightly north of them. Many regard this as classic Kansas, and I’d agree with that assessment about half the time. The title track is classic progressive rock, the rest is rarely less than exciting, though none of it reaches the consistently sublime heights of the English masters.

Original elpee version

A1. Down The Road (Steve Walsh/Kerry Livgren) (3:43)
A2. Song For America (Kerry Livgren) (9:59)
A3. Lamplight Symphony (Kerry Livgren) (8:11)
B1. Lonely Street (Steve Walsh/Dave Hope/Rich Williams/Phil Ehart) (5:41)
B2. The Devil Game (Steve Walsh/Dave Hope) (5:01)
B3. Incomudro – Hymn To The Atman (Kerry Livgren) (12:11)

All musical arrangements by KANSAS.

CD reissue bonus tracks
7. Song For America (single edit)
8. Down The Road (live)

Original 8-track version
A1. Down The Road
A2. Lonely Street
A3. The Devil Game (part 1)
B1. The Devil Game (conclusion)
B2. Lamplight Symphony
C1. Incomudro-Hymn To The Atman (Part 1)
D1. Incomudro-Hymn To The Atman (conclusion)
D2. Song For America

The Players

Phil Ehart (drums, glockenspiel, Moog drum), Dave Hope (bass guitar), Kerry Livgren (lead and rhythm guitars, piano, Moog synthesizer, ARP strings, guitars), Rob Steinhardt (violin, vocals), Steve Walsh (organ, ARP synthesizer, lead vocal), Rich Williams (lead and rhythm guitars, acoustic guitar) with Timothy Strauss (special thanks on B3). Produced by Jeff Glixman and Wally Gold; engineered by Peter Granet.

The Pictures

Painting by Peter Lloyd. Photo by Kenneth McGowen. Art direction by Ed Lee.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track in March 1975 in the US (Kirshner, PZ/PZA 33385), the UK (Epic, S EPC 80740) and Germany and the Netherlands (Kirshner, KIR 80740) with lyrics innersleeve; reached #57 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1978 in Japan (Kirshner, 25AP 1218).
  2. Re-issued on cassette in the US (Kirshner, PZT 33385).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (ZK 33385).
  4. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2004 in the US (Epic Legacy, EK 86610) and Germany (Epic Legacy, EPC 517142 2) and on October 20, 2004 in Japan (Epic, MHCP-437) with 2 bonus tracks.
  5. Re-released on remastered compact disc on September 24, 2008 in Japan (Epic, EICP 1048).
  6. Re-packaged with expanded, remastered editions of Kansas, Point of Know Return, Leftoverture and Masque on 5CD set in 2009 in Europe (Epic Legacy/Sony, 88697459822).
  7. Re-released on extra-expanded, remastered Blu-Spec compact disc on August 24, 2011 in Japan (Epic, EICP 20072) with 3 bonus tracks.

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