|Musical Style: Progressive Rock||Produced By: Kerry Livgren|
|Record Label: Numavox||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2008||Artist Website: Kerry Livgren|
|Tracks: 14||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 65:05|
Prime Mover (Redux), the most recent solo outing of guitarist/keyboardist Kerry Livgren, has accumulated quite the history. Originally released on Sparrow Records in 1988 under the title Prime Mover, the album was re-recorded and re-issued as Prime Mover II ten years later. The third and final version of the project, Prime Mover (Redux), came out in the fourth quarter of 2008.
Prime Mover actually fell under the heading “Kerry Livgren/AD”. AD, the Christian group Livgren formed following his departure from Kansas in the mid-eighties, can trace its history to his second solo album, the 1984 Sony Records release Time Line. While Time Line initially started as a solo project, it culminated with the musicians performing on it “morphing” into a full time band. Hence, AD was born. AD proceeded to record the Sparrow follow up releases Art Of The State (1985) and Reconstructions (1986) before its members went their separate ways. Prime Mover, which Livgren recorded to pay bills accrued by the disbanded group, was mostly made up of material taken from unreleased AD demos.
So why re-record Prime Mover? In the words of Livgren: “Unfortunately, it (Prime Mover) was done in a hurry, on a very low budget, and under a cloud of disappointment about the demise of AD. The thought occurred to me - they re-make movies, why not albums?” Prime Mover II ended up being re-recorded on two EMU Darwins, two ADAT XT's, and an Apple Macintosh G3 using Digital Performer software” (Prime Mover was recorded on 24 track analog tape and then transferred to digital). The drum machine on the original, at the same time, was replaced by a real drummer.
So why re-record Prime Mover II? Again, in the words of Livgren: “The best explanation I can offer is that, with time, the technology has taken such a leap forward that it became obvious to me that I could greatly improve both the quality of the recording, and in many cases the performances.” The Prime Mover II tracks were transferred onto a 24-bit Workstation while most of the drums were re-played and the bass guitar, brass and woodwinds, for the most part, replaced with real players. A few additional background vocals were added as well.
So what is the end result? Well, since I do not have Prime Mover II I cannot offer a comparison; however, I do own the first and third versions of the project and the results are, well, stunning. On Prime Mover (Redux) everything – and I MEAN everything – comes to life with the bigger and better sound: the low end is now thicker, the rhythm guitars weightier and the lead guitar and bass easier to discern in the mix. If you are like me and disappointed with the production to the original then this makes the project come with the highest recommendation.
While progressive rock might be the most accurate description of Prime Mover (Redux), it is not over the top progressive in the same sense as, let’s say, Neal Morse or Livgren’s recent work with Proto-Kaw. The album breaks down evenly between up-tempo tracks – “Don’t Pass Me By”, “Fathers And Sons” and “I’ll Follow You” – and those heading in a mid-paced direction: “New Kind Of Love” “One More Song” and “Children Of The Shadows”. One of the highlights to the project is the Kansas cover “Portrait II”, in which the lyrical direction has been changed from Einstein to that of Christ.
Speaking of Kansas covers, Prime Mover (Redux) also features the five new songs that appeared on Prime Mover II, including the hard rocking “Fair Exchange” (off Vinyl Confessions from 1982). You will also find a short instrumental (“Out Of Opus”), two slower pieces (“Incantos” and “Brave Hearts”) and a straightforward rocker (“Item 89”).
Prime Mover was recorded with only two original AD members, Livgren and vocalist Warren Ham (Bloodrock). Sitting out the project are co-lead vocalist Michael Gleason, bassist Dave Hope (Kansas) and drummer Dennis Holt. For Prime Mover (Redux), Livgren kept all of Ham’s vocal tracks while adding bassist Craig Kew (Proto-Kaw) to fill out the low end.
The album gets underway to “Out Of Opus”, a short (1:03) instrumental carried by symphonic keyboards.
“Portrait II” is a cover of the Kansas classic “Portrait (He Knew)” (off Point Of Know Return from 1977). Musically, the song represents prime Livgren songwriting skills at their best, interweaving a copious melody with several tasteful stretches into instrumental territory- and creating quite the majestic atmosphere in the process. Lyrically, the song differs from the original (based around Albert Einstein) in that it now focuses on Christ:
He had a different idea, the Master knew the plan
He could see into the future, a true visionary man
The truth is all that He told us, He died but He lives again
He will return to be with us, but who will be ready then?
“Don’t Pass Me By” stands out with its upbeat momentum. The song drifts forward from the start in a piano driven manner, gaining even further initiative as it obtains an animated chorus spiced up by a jazzy horn section. Woodwinds and a crisp rhythm guitar make their presence felt as does a bluesy lead guitar. “Don’t Pass Me By” talks about running the race to win:
So I’m a little behind the race
As long as I can place it’s alright
Before you walk you’ve got to stand
Just take me by the hand and lead me home
Your faith must live, proven by what you will give
The last shall be first, water for all who thirst
“Father And Sons” brings a lighthearted vibe with more woodwinds (during its mirthful verse portions) and traces of the acoustic (for its stately chorus). But the main highlight to the song is how the rhythm guitar moves to the front of the mix to drive its instrumental section (shored up by a jagged guitar solo).
“Incantos”, the first of the full length new tracks, slows things to a near standstill. Gradually moving its length to a crisp acoustic guitar, the song almost comes across with a medieval flair as a result of its regal ambience and occasional use of classical instrumentation. The smooth feel to Ham’s vocal delivery helps put things over the top.
Non-stop hooks are delivered on “I’ll Follow You”. The song maneuvers its stately verse portions to an exquisite joining of keyboards and guitar, breaking out in up-tempo fashion upon transitioning to a catchy chorus backed by a distant piano. An extended instrumental section closing things out allows Livgren to showcase his riveting lead work. “I’ll Follow You” talks about doing exactly that:
Searching horizons of hope
For some long lost dream
In one sweet moment I’m
Plunged into Your healing stream
I’ll follow You, ‘cause You give me the desire
I’ll follow You, leaving the world behind
I’ll follow You, though You take me through the fire
I know I’ll never be the same
“Fair Exchange”, the albums second Kansas cover (from the 1982 release Vinyl Confessions), is by far its heaviest piece. Livgren, appropriately, places the rhythm guitar at the forefront of the mix to create a hard rocking environs, particularly during its driving verse portions. As the song picks up in pace for its uniform chorus, in contrast, an accentuating acoustic guitar makes its presence felt. Ham’s gritty work on harmonica adds to the bluesy scene. "Fair Exchange" talks about the totalitarianism of a computerized society (and how people would be willing to give up their freedom in exchange for personal security and comfort):
Fair exchange for your freedom
Fair exchange for your life
Hail the new perfect order
Ending trouble and strife
No one can refuse our offer, it's a fair exchange
You're on file, our computer
Know's what's best for you
We will provide the solution, for the rest of you
Safety and peace, the terror will cease
Forget everything the fanatics tell you
Now you can worship the leader
All he wants is your soul
Laid back, bluesy and tempered, “New Kind Of Love” traverses its distance in soulful fashion as an organ joins with a spicy lead guitar. Vocal harmonies pay an abundant role during its easy going chorus. I enjoy the change of pace presented by this one, especially the saxophone solo found at its halfway point. Ham brings some heart and soul in terms of his vocal delivery as well.
“Brave Hearts”, another slower piece, brings to mind “Incantos” but with more of a progressive edge. The song opens its first minute to an instrumental section carried by a keyboard solo backed by a trumpet. The rhythm guitar soon cuts in and carries things ahead ominously, a dramatic milieu prevailing as “Brave Hearts” spans several changes in tempo – some symphonically charged and others moving at a near standstill – while Livgren adds a trademark run of moving lead guitar.
The pace picks up for “Wandering Spirit”. I appreciate the contrasts presented by the song, ranging from low key verse portions to a chorus advancing at a spirited upbeat tempo. All the while Craig Kew lays down a foundation of sturdy bass lines. “Wandering Spirit” deals with the daily battles and victories that Christians face:
Falling, but His gentle hand
Lifts me again, and helps me to stand
How can it be, there is so much rebellion in me
Oh, Lord, set me free
The lamp is burning, the table prepared
For the wayfaring son’s coming home
Oh, Holy Father come dwell in this place
Or my wandering spirit will roam
The mid-paced “One More Song” brings a complementary touch of the commercial. The song moves forward from the start with an acoustic guitar decorating the backdrop, making an even transition to an airy chorus in which abundant backing vocals play a prevailing role. Livgren closes things with more of his deft soloing abilities. “One More Song” delivers a faith based message:
I found a love to fill my heart and it’s everything I need
Like a mighty tree that grew from a tiny little seed
And the branches fill my life and the roots they run so deep
I’m holding on to the one thing I can keep and its
Always another word to be said
Always another symphony in my heart
Never repeating ever so new
Whatever the music, still I cling to You
One so true
Of the albums newer material “Item 89” is my least favorite. No, not bad but not quite up there with “Incantos” or “Brave Hearts” (not to mention “Fair Exchange”). The song proves a groove heavy piece with its lively tempo and accenting hints of harmonica and organ. An acoustic guitar backs its uplifting chorus.
The haunting ballad “Children Of The Shadows” highlights a swarthy environs. A piano upholds the song throughout its sublime verse portions, the tempo not picking up until an ennobled chorus sustained by a fixed rhythm guitar is obtained. Poignant but reflecting elements of the classic, “Children Of The Shadows” reminds me of “Ground Zero” (from Livgren’s 1980 solo release Seeds Of Change). Lyrics need no further explanation:
Ever remaining the chosen Son
Given the name of the Holy One
Through the centuries never changing
From the present to the past
By Your hand the future is cast
What a tale the past would tell
If the ruins could speak
Through a glass we are darkly peering
Knowing now what we seek
“T.G.B.”, standing for Texas Gospel blues, as its moniker indicates, is a gutsy blues rocker. With a blend of piano and organ carrying the day, the song stands out with its decisive chorus – in which Ham again showcases the soulful side to his vocal delivery – and instrumental section featuring a red hot harmonica and lead guitar duel.
It has always been my opinion that Prime Mover, irregardless of incarnation, is an understated album musically. As a matter of fact, I might rank it the stronger of Livgren’s four AD era albums but tended to pass on it in favor of Art Of The State (or Time Line) due to the original production limitations. That, however, has changed with Prime Mover (Redux) in that production is now a legitimate strength. The addition of five new tracks is icing on the cake.
Track Listing: “Out Of Opus”(1:03), “Portrait II” (5:50), “Don’t Pass Me By” (5:00), “Fathers And Sons” (4:09), “Incantos” (3:56), “I’ll Follow You” (4:38), “Fair Exchange” (6:01), “New Kind Of Love” (4:04), “Brave Hearts” (5:41), “Wandering Spirit” (4:16), “One More Song” (4:37), “item 89” (4:22), “Children Of The Shadows” (5:09), “T.G.B.” (6:18)
Kerry Livgren – Guitars, Keyboards & Percussions
Warren Ham – Lead Vocals, Harmonica & Woodwinds
Craig Kew – Bass
Daryl Batchelor – Trumpet
Bryan Nelson – Trombone
Also Reviewed: AD – Time Line, Kansas – Vinyl Confessions, Kansas – Somewhere To Elsewhere, Kerry Livgren – Seeds Of Change, Kerry Livgren – Collector’s Sedition (Directors Cut), Proto-Kaw – Before Became After, Proto-Kaw – The Wait Of Glory