Song Spotlight: Taking In The View, By Kansas

The 1980’s were very difficult years for progressive rock. It’s safe to say that every major progressive rock band was affected by the transition from the 1970’s to the 1980’s. Many bands streamlined their sound while others simply disbanded. American progressive rock band Kansas did both. Thankfully their breakup was short lived.

Kansas opened the 1980’s with a succession of increasingly commercial albums: Audio-Visions (1980), Vinyl Confessions (1982), Drastic Measures (1983) and Power (1986). In that span of time the band had three top forty singles. One could argue that they successfully transitioned and survived the changing climate of the music scene.

Their 1986 album Power is a very interesting one to me. The band disbanded and went their separate ways in 1984. Power is the first album by the reformed band. The album features the return of lead singer Steve Walsh after his departure in 1981. Also returning were the ever reliable Phil Ehart on drums and Rich Williams on guitar. Filling out the lineup were new band members Steve Morse on guitar and Billy Greer on bass. Absent from the reunion were long time members guitarist Kerry Livgren and violinist Robby Steinhardt.

cover_17188962016_r

Power is a very mainstream rock album, but it still carries the essence of the band’s sounds from the 1970’s Overall it is a very guitar driven album. Rich Williams and Steve Morse handle the guitar duties admirably. Steve Walsh’s keyboards are very present, but nothing like the keyboard heavy albums of the 1970s. It should be noted that Power is one of the few Kansas albums not to feature any violin.

I must say that I am a big fan of this album. Steve Walsh is in fine form vocally. The songwriting, band performances and production are exceptional. I do not  have a negative thing to say about this album. This is purely a rock album, but traces of progressive rock do crop up a few times over the course of the album. Power is the sound of a 1970’s progressive rock band successfully navigating the choppy waters of the 1980’s music scene.  The spirit of 1970’s Kansas is ever present, but the music sounds fresh and new.

KANSAS_08

I could highlight any of the ten songs on the album. But I will focus on the seventh track, Taking In The View, the album’s quietest song. Of all the songs on the album this one captures the essence of 1970’s Kansas the most. Musically the song features just acoustic guitar and keyboards, leaving plenty of space for Steve Walsh’s vocals. He delivers a typically passionate and powerful vocal performance. A children’s choir, something different for Kansas, appears briefly in the latter half of the song. This track would have fit right in on the classic Kansas album Point Of Know Return (1977).

Taking In The View is just one of ten songs that showcase Steve Walsh’s stellar vocals. The whole band delivers solid performances on the album, but Walsh is clearly the standout. Power is a testament to Kansas and their ability to remain commercially relevant and yet stay true to their musical roots. The album may not be as complex as prior efforts, but to this fan’s ears it still sounds like Kansas.

My Highlights Of 2016

As the year comes to a close various top ten and  best of  lists will be published. Many of these lists can be fun to read. This is not really a true top ten list, plus it contains eleven items.  It is an brief overview of some entertainment highlights that come to mind from 2016.

Unfortunately 2016 was a year full of far too much bad news, negativity, hate and division. At times during 2016 the world seemed like a very dark place. At the end of the year it’s good to reflect on some of the entertainment that brought some light into my life in 2016.

Phil Collins’ Reemergence

5767585lpw-5772320-article-phil-collinsconcertmusiqueeurope-jpg_3843522_660x281

Phil Collins’ slow and steady reemergence from retirement. Not one event, but a series of live appearances, interviews and the release of his autobiography Not Dead Yet. All of this is leading up to some large scale concerts in 2017. At 65 years of age Phil Collins may look a little rough around the edges. But he is still one of my favorite musical artists. The man’s music has brought a lot of light to my life over the years.

Xiphea – Once Upon A Time

1477507089_unnamed

Xiphea are a fantastic symphonic metal band out of Germany. They call their brand of music Fairytale Metal. With song titles like Beauty And The King, Masquerade, Cinderella and Power Of The Dwarfs one can understand the label. Do not let the song titles fool you, this is a serious and heavy band.  Once Upon A Time is Xiphea’s third release.  So far they have released one EP and two full length albums.  The future looks bright for this band.   I plan on writing more about them in a future blog.

The Genesis Show

ar-160839991

The Genesis Show are an absolutely amazing and talented Phil Collins era Genesis tribute band that, for now, focuses on Genesis live circa 1976-1977. Tribute bands can be hit or miss, either really good or downright silly. The Genesis Show are a serious band that are passionate about playing the music of Genesis. I had the great pleasure of seeing them live this year. As a huge Genesis fan since 1981 I was extremely impressed by The Genesis Show. The musicianship on display was incredible. I highly recommend seeing them live.

Kansas – The Prelude Implicit

636025909834290632

I count Kansas among my top 20 favorite bands. Their newest release, The Prelude Implicit, is a strong argument for classic bands continuing to record new music. I would definitely place The Prelude Implicit on my top ten favorite Kansas albums list. The band’s new singer Ronnie Platt has some incredibly big shoes to fill. He does so quite well. I look forward to more new music by this great band.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-movie-stills-30

A very, very good Star Wars film that falls short of being great by playing it too safe in the second half of the movie.  But I will say that the movie contains one of my absolute favorite scenes from any Star Wars movie. I just hope that the success of this film will allow for more ambitious Star Wars movies in the future.

Arrow: Season Five

arrow-season-4-oliver-queen-stephen-amell

A fantastic rebound from the disappointment of season four. It would seem that in the off season the creative team revisited the things that made the show great in the past. Half way through season five and  I would say that Arrow is back on track.  Stephen Amell, in the title role, continues to play this character with such conviction.

Metallica…Hardwired To Self-Destruct

maxresdefault

It’s been eight years since Death Magnetic, but overall it was worth the wait. The double disc release showcases a collection of fast and heavy songs by a rejuvenated band. Unfortunately all of the songs are not equal. I would say that if the band had trimmed the fat and lost two songs they would have had a killer single disc.

Captain America: Civil War

tumblr_o7sp6pflhl1vv5pr6o1_500

A movie that contained not only great action, but also great drama. Civil War and the prior Captain America movie The Winter Soldier have really brought superhero movies to a new level. There is a lot going on in this movie, but the performances of Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. provide a solid foundation and help keep the movie grounded.

Doctor Strange

null

Doctor Strange is Marvel’s latest superhero movie.  It stars Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role.   Benedict Cumberbatch joins the ranks of actors  like Hugh Jackman, Christopher Reeve, Harrison Ford and Patrick Stewart. What do they have in common?  It seems that they were born to bring to life certain iconic characters. Wolverine, Superman, Indiana Jones, Professor Xavier and in Cumberbatch’s case Doctor Stephen Strange. A great movie with a fantastic performance by Cumberbatch.

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

batman-v-superman-wonder-woman-01-670-380

I know it had it critics, but I loved this movie. Henry Cavill is super as Superman. Ben Affleck really nails the true essence of Bruce Wayne/Batman. His portrayal of Bruce Wayne is my favorite of any actor to date. I love Diane Lane as Martha Kent. Gal Gadot’s fantastic performance as Wonder Woman may be my biggest and most pleasant surprise of the year. The only real downside for me was Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Lex Luthor.  His was a different take on the character that did not really work for me.

Epica – The Holographic Principal

epica___the_holographic_principle_facebook_headers_by_soulcrusher19-da8x04f

I feel that Epica, a symphonic metal band out of the Netherlands, are the best band in their genre. The Holographic Principal is their seventh studio album and it is phenomenal. Epica continues to grow and evolve with each new album. Their unique and dense mix of thrash metal, opera, progressive rock, classical music, death metal and soundtrack scores continues to delight this metal fan a great deal.

Troy T.

Kansas – The Prelude Implicit

636025909834290632

Kansas recently released their newest studio album The Prelude Implicit. The band’s last two fully original studio albums, 2000’s Somewhere To Nowhere and 1995’s Freaks Of Nature are tales  of two vastly different bands.    Somewhere To Nowhere is the band’s absolute worse album and Freaks Of Nature is one of their very best.

The Prelude Implicit is the first Kansas album to feature new singer Ronnie Platt. I was aware that the band had a new singer, but this is my first exposure to his vocals. The album also features long time members Phil Ehart on drums, Richard Williams on guitar and Billy Greer on bass. The lineup is completed by new members David Manion on keyboards and Zak Rizvi on guitar.   This new incarnation of Kansas makes an extremely positive argument for classic bands putting out new music. The Prelude Implicit is a fantastic album that sounds like classic Kansas, without sounding retro. The ten songs showcase excellent songwriting that combines the prog rock sounds that the band explored in the 1970’s with the more commercial rock sounds found on their releases from the 1980’s. 

The whole band sounds great, but there are a few standouts.  Ronnie Platt is the perfect middle ground between the band’s prior two singers, Steve Walsh and John Elefante. Those are some mighty big shoes to fill. Platt steps up to the microphone and he sings like a champion.

 Veteran violinist David Ragsdale is one of the biggest stars of the album. One of the things that sets Kansas apart, even from other prog bands, is the heavy use of violin in their music.  His violin is a huge part of what gives this release that classic Kansas sound.

The band’s long time drummer and founding member  Phil Ehart has always been a solid drummer. One of Ehart’s strengths has been his ability to play great without being to flashy or busy. He is a solid drummer who plays for the song and that is reflected throughout the new album.

I do have two rather minor criticisms.  The music is fantastic, however I do feel that the keyboards are downplayed somewhat in the mix.  The second issue is the cover art, it is just okay.  The illustration is decent, but I really do not care for the colors used.  Is it a bad cover?  No, but it will not go down in history as an example of excellent cover art.   As I said, minor criticisms.

If you are a fan of the great music of Kansas I would highly suggest that you get your hands on The Prelude Implicit. I have listened to this album steadily for the past three weeks.  I can honestly say that it is among my top five favorite Kansas albums.  Highly recommended!!!