Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Kerry Livgren - Seeds Of Change
   
Musical Style: Progressive Rock Produced By: Kerry Livgren & Brad Aaron
Record Label: Sony Music Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 1980/2014 Artist Website: Kerry Livgren
Tracks: 7 Rating: 100%
Running Time: 39:54
Kerry Livgren - Seeds Of Change

"Even though Christian art and music is often plagued by mediocrity, the Christian world view supports and demands the highest level of craftsmanship."
-Kerry Livgren

If you are a Kansas fan then Seeds Of Change, the 1980 solo release from keyboardist/guitarist Kerry Livgren, is the stuff of legends.  Yes, many consider Kansas’ 1976 fourth album Leftoverture to be Livgren’s magnum opus- and rightly so when factoring classic rock radio staple “Carry On Wayward Son” and that it arguably features some of his best songwriting to date.  The 1977 follow up effort Point Of Know Return has received its share of accolades as well, if not the least for including the groups biggest hit, the Livgren penned “Dust In The Wind”, in addition to selling four million copies in the US and being certified Quadruple Platinum by the RIAA.  This reviewer, however, tends to gravitate towards Seeds Of Change in terms of artistic statement, and not just from highlighting the artists prime progressive songwriting abilities but also the plethora of guest vocalists and musicians that appeared in addition to the spiritual nature of the lyrics.

The origin to Seeds Of Change can be traced to Livgren’s ongoing spiritual search in the years leading to its release.  With various forms of mysticism and Eastern philosophies influencing his lyrics in Kansas, Livgren addressed topics ranging from reincarnation (“Apercu” from Kansas) to the inescapable reality of death and to grasp the meaning of that which is unattainable but having nowhere to turn (“Child Of Innocence” and “The Pinnacle” from Masque, respectively).  The aforementioned “Dust In The Wind” focused on striving for something eternal that would not pass away.  In his 1983 autobiography of the same name, Livgren summed things up best by stating that he “took a syncretistic approach to religion”1 in which he was “moving from one philosophy to another, but nothing could rid me of the emptiness I felt or provide real meaning and satisfaction”.2

Yet, all that changed during the summer of 1979 when Kansas was on tour in support of its sixth album, Monolith, from earlier that year.  Livgren had been engaging in a series of theological debates with Jeff Pollard, lead vocalist of Kansas’ opening act of the time, Le Roux.  As a direct result from the influence of Pollard, who is a believer, Livgren’s spiritual journey ended when he made a decision for Christ.  Again, Seeds Of Change (the book) finds him putting things in proper perspective: “Unlike my previous religious experiences, my conversion was based on repentance from sin.  I finally understood that believing in Christ means more than intellectual assent; it means turning away from sin (repentance) and choosing to receive Christ's gift of salvation.  This time I knew my quest had reached an end- the years of searching were over”.3

Livgren, as one might imagine, desired to record a solo album communicating a Christian message to those taking seriously the spiritual matters in which he previously wrote.  He subsequently started to give thought to the project in 1979 and soon brought the idea to his manager Bud Carr, who got the ball rolling with the record company.  The fall of the same year found Livgren composing eleven new songs, four of which made their way onto the next Kansas album, Audio-Visions from 1980, and remaining seven Seeds Of Change.  The title Seeds Of Change came about when Livgren identified with each song as having a distinct personality and representing a ‘seed of change’ in his life.

The criteria used by Livgren to make Seeds Of Change was to hand pick the best musicians for each song.  The upshot was the recruitment of Barriemore Barlow (Jethro Tull) to handle drums on four tracks, while Phil Ehart (Kansas) filled in on two others.  In addition to Paul Goddard (Atlanta Rhythm Section) contributing bass, Bobby Campo (Le Roux) assisted on tambourine and horns, and Robby Steinhardt (Kansas) violin.  Livgren, at the same time, provides lead, rhythm and acoustic guitar, bass guitar, organ, keyboards, clavinet, Fender Rhodes, mongo drums and percussion (per the liner notes to the original vinyl release).

As you can see, Livgren, similar to Bo Jackson, ‘knows’ many things; however, lead vocals are not one of them.  Hence, the artists decision to go the ‘vocalist by committee’ route and treat each song as a distinct entity and match it with the most appropriate vocalist he could find.  Opening cut “Just One Way” features the already noted Jeff Pollard, who lends his at times gutsy and others even vocal presence to a song walking a fine line between the acoustic and hard rock guitar driven.  Livgren visualized Ronnie James Dio as possessing the range and power best complementing “Mask Of The Great Deceiver”, another heavier piece standing out with its intense bombast, metal edged guitars and dramatic bass lines.  “To Live For The King”, also Dio fronted, regally plods to symphonic underpinnings and worshipful overtures.  Dio was chosen due to not just being musically the right person for the job but also the best messenger to deliver the message, Livgren thinking it ironic that Dio would be singing lyrics diametrically opposed to those of Black Sabbath.

Kansas front man Steve Walsh guests on “How Can You Live”, perhaps the albums most Kansas sounding track with its accessible classic rock flavorings, while Mylon LeFevre lends some southern heart and soul to the mournfully blues based “Whiskey Seed” (also featuring a short vocal appearance from Livgren).  A horn section and lower-register vocals of Davey Moire adorn “Down To The Core”, a laid back and gritty hard rocker also touching upon the blues, and AOR flavorings of David Pack (Ambrosia) “Ground Zero”,  the albums most progressive with its eight and a half minute length and majestic keyboard driven pomp and splendor.

Comparing Seeds Of Change to Kansas might be the initial inclination of the listener but keep in mind there is also a bit more here than meets the eye.  Yes, the album reflects a Kansas influenced progressive slant from featuring the compositions of the group’s primary songwriter.  This is a given.  That said, Seeds Of Change also allows Livgren to branch out from a foundation of Kansas style progressiveness and experiment musically in touching upon elements of classic rock, straightforward hard rock, symphonic rock and blues and infuse them with many of the most guitar driven moments of his career.  It adds up (in my opinion) to one of the artists defining musical moments from not only stretching songwriting wise but also working with some of the best talent in the business at the time.

Seeds Of Change has been re-released on four different occasions.  The first occurred in 1992 as part of the two CD set Decade (on Sparrow Records) that also included Time Line, the debut album of Livgren’s post Kansas group AD, and second four years later on Sony Music with a bonus track in the form of a twenty-minute interview with the artist.  In 2008-09, Livgren re-recorded Seeds Of Change and re-issued it under the new title Decade Volume 1 on his own label, Numavox.  The fourth re-release occurred in January of 2014 on Rock Candy Records.  This is where things get problematic in that Rock Candy has not re-issued the original version of Seeds Of Change but rather Decade Volume 1 instead.  Is this good or bad?  And what are the differences between the two versions?  Answer to the former lies somewhere in-between and latter noticeable but significant at the same time.

I do not intend to make a mountain out of a molehill or claim false advertising on part of the label, but since the Rock Candy re-issue features the original album artwork, one is given the impression of purchasing the 1980 version of Seeds Of Change when in fact they are not.  Further complicating matters is that the Rock Candy packaging only mentions the album as having been re-mastered (by Livgren) but makes no reference to the re-recording that occurred with Decade Volume 1.  Please note that the Decade Volume 1 packaging states, word for word, “preserving most of the original guest artist performances”.  With the implication that not all the guests that performed on Seeds Of Change were included as part of Decade Volume 1, further credo is added that the Rock Candy version is not a true re-issue of Seeds Of Change.

In terms of specifics, three of the original Seeds Of Change tracks received marked alterations as a result of the Decade Volume 1 re-recording:

1.  Two songs had their instrumental portions completely revamped: “Just One Way” takes a groove-funk heading (as Livgren solos in the background) and “How Can You Live” a symphonic direction in featuring a lengthy keyboard solo (in addition to closing to several seconds of Gospel choir vocals).  Changes to the former are mostly cosmetic and easily tolerable, while I much rather prefer original to the latter.

2.  On “Mask Of The Great Deceiver” keyboards are placed at such a forthright position in the mix they override guitars, particularly during the chorus and bridge portions.  This is a major setback in that perhaps due to the presence of Dio, but “Mask Of The Great Deceiver” demands that guitars play a dominant role.  The song, as a result, loses much of its inherit power and projection.

On the upbeat, the Rock Candy re-issue features vastly upgraded album artwork (the 1996 re-issue artwork looks like a bad scan of a bad scan in comparison) along with a 12-page full color booklet with 3500 word essay and new interview with the artist.  The re-mastering is fantastic and makes for a work far superior to the others in terms of overall sound and clarity.

Whether to purchase the Rock Candy re-issue comes down to weighing the positives against the negatives.  Yes, the changes to the songs (from the re-recording) are mostly superficial with the exception of “Mask Of The Great Deceiver”.  The problem therein lies in that the albums best track has lost much of its luster.  Improvements with the packaging and re-mastering notwithstanding, Rock Candy fails to present with an accurate re-issue of Seeds Of Change as it was released in 1980, which counts for a lot with this reviewer (again, when factoring the re-recording that took place and the guest performances that ended up being cut in the process).  Regardless, Seeds Of Change still ranks with my all time favorite albums, with the 100% grade a true indicate of how it was originally released in 1980.

Track By Track

“Just One Way” fades in quickly to keyboards and punchy bass prior to cutting to the chase: Powering through its muscular verses with metal-laced guitars only to lighten as acoustic guitar gently accents its decisive but smoothly flowing chorus.  Instrumentally, the song regains its momentum as Livgren lets loose with his razor edged soloing abilities.  The heavier rocking mentality to his one sets the stage for what is to follow.  "Just One Way", the first song Livgren wrote as a Christian, details how there are hundreds of paths that lead to emptiness and destruction but only one leads to the true God:

All my life I looked for something real
Place to place I wandered restlessly
I just needed something I could feel
And when I found the Truth it set me free
Just one way, just one way, just one way
From the dark to the Light there's
Just one way...

The instrumental introduction to “Mask Of The Great Deceiver” starts to soaring keyboards that give way to decisive bass and lead guitar interplay.  The bottom drops out after two minutes as a lone bass line holds sway over the initial verses, impetus gaining as a storming rhythm guitar kicks in and propels things to the resonate chorus carried at the more exponential tempo.  A lengthy keyboard stretch features keyboard solos and added searing guitar.  This is close to metal as it gets for Livgren, with Ronnie James Dio playing no small role in this capacity.  "Mask Of The Great Deceiver" explains how Satan seeks to spiritually oppress and deceive humanity:

He will fill up your ears
And he'll dazzle your eyes
But don't believe what he's saying
'Cause he's the father of lies
In your heart, don't you know that he'll betray you
And in the end he will drag you away
Till all the world is cryin' for the judgment day
And he's fallen how he's fallen
From the height of the morning star
Though his light's still shining brightly
It's the mask of the great deceiver

“How Can You Live” reflects a Kansas influenced classic rock feel.  An equal joining of organ and keyboards imbue the song, emotional and somber at times (for its verses) and at others breaking out in uplifting fashion (for the up-tempo milieu of its chorus).  Little doubt is left, as a result, Walsh is one of the finer vocalists of his era.  "How Can You Live" questions how people can be satisfied in life without a relationship with God:

Does the picture you have in your mind never turn out right
Do the things you do leave a hole in your soul
Is the best you can do always short of the goal
And the way  it's supposed to be just never is
How can you live when nothing's there
Something is gone inside you now
Look to the Word that says it all
Everything will turn out fine

The album yields some heartfelt grit and edge for the bluesy “Whiskey Seed”.  Harmonica and slide guitar play lead roles here, standing alongside mournful backing vocals and LeFevere’s soulful vocal presence.  Even Livgren adds some vocal moments with rawer and course vocal style.  This would have been a great piece for early nineties Bride to cover.  "Whiskey Seed" describes one form of human bondage:

Well the gutter's my bed, the paper's my sheet
You can find me lyin' out in the street
It's the devil's own so brother take heed
Don't go plantin' that ol' Whiskey Seed

“To Live For The King” evokes its share of emotion: Plodding (with its majestic and symphonic aspects) and muscular (from its guitar underpinnings) but also atmospheric (as found in its ominous choir-like backing vocals).  The stirring elements to Dio’s voice lend the perfect stately touch- and satisfyingly tie everything together in the process.  Of equal note is Livgren’s perfectly placed inspired soloing.  "To Live For The King" talks abut devotion to Christ as King and Lord:

The rising of the sun is seen by everyone
And no one can deny it’s real
And when you hear the call come crashing through my wall
You just can’t doubt the things that you feel

So lift me up, the time has come to sing
And give up everything
To live for the King

“Down To The Core” picks up the pace with its gritty and bluesy sensibilities, complemented by the grainy, lower-register vocals of Davy Moire.  Fittingly, horns add a rawer touch, while female backing vocals help make the transparent chorus that much more haunting.  And I love how the song abruptly picks up pace for a soaring instrumental stretch carried by hard rocking guitars.  "Down To The Core" points out that the source of true fulfillment is not in wealth or material possessions but rather in the Lord:

There's no relief in your possessions
There's no relief in what you own
And what you reap in the coming future
Don't you know it's only what you have sown
Down to the core, it's an empty hole
Down to the core, and there's nothin' at the bottom
Down to the core, you're an empty soul
You'll never make it alone

“Ground Zero” brings the album to its eminent close.  Refined and even would be the best way to describe David Pack (sort of like Rob Rock), lending his warm flavorings to the over the top majesty of the songs verses and ethereal tinged chorus that flows from the elegant to the roughly hewn.  Keyboards and piano assert themselves throughout, particularly during a lengthy instrumental stretch that culminates with Livgren’s moving stretch of soloing.  A second instrumental run at the end carries things to a satisfying eight and a half minutes.  Ground zero is a term in nuclear physics describing the point of ignition of a nuclear blast, Livgren creating a parallel between that and the magnanimity of the return of Christ:

Across the sea and far away, the eyes of all the world
Await the Passion play
The final act at last has begun, the new is born
The old is bound to pass away
No more turn of the pages
And now the hope of the ages
For all the bondage is broken, all who see
The day is coming when men will look to the skies
The consummation of all who realize
(We are) Waiting for Ground Zero

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: "Just One Way" (5:45), "Mask Of The Great Deceiver" (7:34), "How Can You Live" (4:12), "Whiskey Seed" (5:33), "To Live For The King" (4:56), "Down To The Core" (5:18), "Ground Zero" (8:33)

Musicians
Kerry Livgren - Guitars, Bass, Piano, Organ, Synthesizers, Percussion, Mongo Drums, Clavinet, Fender Rhodes & Vocals
Jeff Pollard, Ronnie James Dio, Steve Walsh, Mylon LeFevre, Davy Moire & David Pack - Lead Vocals
Paul Goddard, Gary Gilbert & Phil Ehart - Bass
Barriemore Barlow & John Thompson - Drums
Bobby Campo - Trumpets, Percussion, Tambourine & Horns
Darryl Kutz - Harmonica
Robby Steinhardt - Violins
John Thompson – Gong

Reference List
Kerry Livgren and Kenneth Boa, Seeds Of Change (Nashville: Sparrow Press, 1991), 149-158.
Van Pelt, Doug. "The Future According To Kerry Livgren." Heaven's Metal 26 (1990): 17-19.
"Interview With Dave Hope Of Kansas." Cornerstone 53 1981): 39.
"Interview With Kerry Livgren." Renaissance Records (1996): Compact Disc.

Endnotes
1.  Kerry Livgren and Kenneth Boa, Seeds Of Change (Nashville: Sparrow Press, 1991), 87.
2.  Kerry Livgren and Kenneth Boa, Seeds Of Change (Nashville: Sparrow Press, 1991), 94.
3.  Kerry Livgren and Kenneth Boa, Seeds Of Change (Nashville: Sparrow Press, 1991), 136-137.

 

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