|Musical Style: Progressive Rock||Produced By: Kerry Livgren|
|Record Label: Inside Out/Numavox||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2006/2016||Artist Website: Kerry Livgren|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 70:37|
The re-mixed, re-mastered and partially re-recorded December of 2015 re-issue of Proto-Kaw’s third album, The Wait Of Glory, arrives as an upgrade in comparison to the initial Inside Out Records release from 2006. Not that the original was in any way flawed, as founding member and guitarist/keyboardist Kerry Livgren aptly points out by stating, “There was certainly nothing overtly “wrong” with it”, but rather “the original recording process became a bit rushed in the mix-down (they always do!) The more I listened to it, the more I believed it needed to be re-mixed, and some of the tracks re-recorded. I'm glad I did.” In terms of specifics, Livgren recorded entirely new tracks or overdubbed some of the originals, re-amped the original tracks (either with a microphone or by using a different amplifier) and edited each song if necessary after listening to it meticulously. He sums things up best in this regard: “Conceptually, I sought to recreate this album with a more organic and analog feel and a superior mix”. I cannot help but feel he succeeded in spades but first a history lesson.
Proto-Kaw can trace its origin to the second incarnation of the classic progressive rock band Kansas (often referred to as ‘Kansas II’). After the ‘first version of Kansas’ broke up in 1970 (a story for another day), founding members vocalist Lynn Meredith, pianist Don Montre, organist Dan Wright and Livgren joined forces with saxophonist John Bolton, bassist Rob Mikinski and drummer Brad Schulz to form the ‘second version of Kansas’. ‘Kansas II’ was a very prolific songwriting period for Livgren, who composed nearly 60 songs, many of which made there way onto the demos the group recorded during the early seventies. Despite said demos garnering some label interest, ‘Kansas II’ failed to sign a deal and subsequently disbanded after which Livgren joined White Clover, a group that consisted of Phil Ehart, Robby Steinhardt, Steve Walsh and Rich Williams and later went on to become the Kansas (Kansas III?) we all know and love.
The “Kansas II” demos sat in a vault for over 30 years until they were unearthed by Cuneiform Records and released in the spring of 2002 under the moniker Proto-Kaw and title Early Recordings From Kansas, 1971-1973. Please note that ‘Proto’ refers to first, while ‘Kaw’ is the Native American name for Kansas. Hence, how the Proto-Kaw designation makes perfect sense.
A subsequent reunion of the ‘Kansas II’ members to celebrate the albums release resulted in an impromptu jam session and discussion in regards to the possibility of reforming. Several questions were raised at that point: What would the group be doing had it stayed together? What would it sound like now? The only way to find out would be to enter the studio. With five of its original members participating, Proto-Kaw started work on the recording process of what would become its 2004 sophomore album Before Became After (also Inside Out).
It is natural for Proto-Kaw to reflect a strong basis of Kansas-like progressiveness in light of how Livgren is its primary songwriter. That said Proto-Kaw is also very much its own band with its own unique and distinct sound. Consider, for instance, how the group is VERY progressive, but that would be telling only part of the story in that the use of saxophone and flute help give it a jazz rock fusion feel, while a jam band element comes in the form of frequent excursions into sweeping instrumental territory. Rounding out the multidimensional Proto-Kaw sound are also moments that range from classic rock and hard rock to funk to rhythm & blues and to even the outright epic and orchestral (if not symphonic).
All these aspects and more reveal themselves on The Wait Of Glory, a work which finds Livgren at the literal top of his inspirational game from a creative songwriting standpoint. Albums first four songs (in my opinion) are some of the best from the artist since his prime Kansas (or at the very least his 1980 solo album Seeds Of Change and 1985 sophomore effort Art Of The State of his post Kansas group AD).
Album starts to the nine minute “Nevermore”, instrumentally opening to flute and reverberant bass prior to impetus decelerating further for the tranquil demeanor that is its delicate verses. Gentle acoustic and piano touches lead the way until the procuring of the pronounced melody inherit to the still done chorus. As initiative picks up, Proto-Kaw reveals its jam band tendencies throughout a three-minute instrumental section in which keyboards duel with Livgren’s edgy soloing.
“Relics Of The Tempest” proves both the darker and weightier (and shorter at five minutes) piece. With steadfast impetus leading the way, the song transitions between airy acoustic sentiments (in which the amiable verses align) and grandiose choir-like moments (for the over the top and epic based chorus). Upshot is another decided melody that helps this rank with the albums best. Of equal note is how Meredith stands out with the emotional flavorings to his smoothly flowing and classic tenor voice.
“When The Rains Come” represents another nine minute epic. The song slowly drifts from the start as a jazzy horn section and hard rocking guitars shoulder its instrumental first two minutes. Momentum tapers to a pleasing acoustic and piano basis moving forward, with grand and stately overtures creating an orchestral effect and imposing keyboards lending towards the symphonic. Another lengthy instrumental interlude (highlighted by Dan Wright’s tasteful Hammond B3) adds to the histrionic scene.
“On The Eve Of The Great Decline”, ominous and pensive with its portent demeanor, almost reflects an otherworldly touch. Another big bass line and further acoustic sentiments stand out alongside solemn backing vocals and periodic heavier rocking guitars in this capacity. An accessible setting prevails accordingly, with the engaging qualities to the ethereal chorus leading one to believe this might have achieved radio play if recorded by Kansas back in the day.
After opening to four tracks this reviewer considers close to perfect as it gets, what is an album to do for an encore? Continue to make a quality statement, albeit not reaching quite the same heights (observation and not critique in light of those that proceed).
“Physics” proves a welcome up-tempo change of pace in following four opening mid-paced cuts. The song emanates front to back mirthfulness with its rollicking aspects, aligning light guitars and organ with Bolton’s saxophone to make a blithe statement. “At Mornings Gate”, a shorter interlude piece that drifts airily to flute and mandolin, leads the way to the albums heaviest number (and another of my favorites), “Melicus Gladiator”. Also upbeat in focus, this one reinforces marked rhythm guitars in a driving framework while allowing Cousin Jake Livgren to shine with his earthy and lower register vocal flavorings. This is close to hard rock as it gets for Proto-Kaw.
Seven minute numbers “The Vigil” and “Old Number 63)” return things to a progressive heading. Former comes across tranquil and serene, resonant from the acoustic lacings and woodwinds that compel its distance but equally striking from the placidly flowing instrumental interlude that cleverly frolics half it length. Latter revisits upbeat territory, with spicy horns, elevated guitars and romping bass converging over a foundation of playful funk-based groove. Livgren lets loose on guitar throughout the extended instrumental passage.
Album closes to “Picture This”, a majestic progressive rocker that awakens memories of “Ground Zero” (off Livgren’s 1980 solo album Seeds Of Change). The song comes across equally palatial, wistful in terms of the regal piano and medieval flavorings that compel its six and a half minute distance and how Meredith emotionally aligns his voice with the lofty scene. Instrumental moments revel in the pensive as things start calmly only to break out at once in a graver heading to more moving lead guitar.
Only two songs I rank in above average to good territory. Instrumental “Osvaldo’s Groceries” cavorts its distance in lively, funk flavored fashion as saxophone and offbeat backing vocals decorate the backdrop. In the end, it stands apart as a non-stop toe tapper. Bonus track “One Fine Day” focuses on a melodic rock and AOR-is heading in playing up a warm and inviting presence and hook driven sing-along chorus. I can see Livgren’s post-Kansas band AD doing something like this.
The previously referenced upgrades improve on The Wait Of Glory production. Low-end, in particular, now stands out further with greater bass substance, while guitars deliver crisper edges and keyboards cleaner symphonic qualities. All around, the album reveals the cleaner, smoother and overall more transparent sound.
While I would hesitate to label The Wait Of Glory a Christian project, lyrics are reflective of Livgren’s faith even if subtly. “When The Rains Come” manifests this:
World forevermore, now still the ocean's roar
Since the rains have come
The blood upon the ground, has all Creation crowned
Since the rains have come
Since the rains have come
So falls the grace, to all the race
Who longed to see the truth prevail?
Has poured from clouds of mercy's shrouds
And fallen on us suddenly
To drink the wine of Heaven's grail
As does “At Morning’s Gate”:
Though a rich man's heir, or a pauper's son
Underneath the cross, we shall all be one
When the days shall wane, and the season's growing late
We'll stand at morning's gate
At the potters wheel, in the sculptors hand
We are being shaped for a better land
Where the winters chill, is the summers warming sun
And Life has just begun
Aptly entitled “On The Eve Of The Great Decline” deals with the decline of civilization:
I am watching it fall around (me)
I am listening to every sound I hear
I am doing what I can do
As the daylight is fading on the Eve
Of the Great Decline...
Dumbing down the Culture, Chaos on the Rise
Watching all the beauty as it's waning
Scene is so familiar, like words that I have read
The world is lost but soon a new one gaining
“Relics Of The Tempest” touches upon the Second Coming:
They said they knew what's coming
The experts all agreed
It will come on one fine morning, it's guaranteed
Fear the Tempest, Fear the Tempest,
You'll fear the Tempest...someday
The lights are dim and the sky is pale
When the day is done, are there any left who can tell the tale
On a crimson sea, and a roaring wave
Their hearts would fail them now if they looked into the grave
The Wait Of Glory adds up to the quintessential progressive rock album, particularly in light of how it features Livgren at his most inspired songwriting best and includes enhanced production inherit to the re-release. Yes, The Wait Of Glory can be a lot to digest at over 70 minutes and potentially could have been cut by a song or two but does not include any filler either. Highly recommended for fans of all of Livgren’s work, progressive music in general or those interested in an upgrade over the original The Wait Of Glory release.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Nevermore” (9:15), “Relics Of The Tempest” (5:06), “When The Rains Come” (8:54), “On The Eve Of The Great Decline” (4:49), “Physics” (5:42), “At Morning’s Gate” (3:08), “Melicus Gladiator (4:50), “The Vigil” (7:18), “Old Number 63” (6:50), “Osvaldo’s Groceries” (3:15), “Picture This” (6:30), “One Fine Day” (4:32)
Lynn Meredith - Lead Vocals
Kerry Livgren - Guitars, Piano, Keyboards & Percussion
John Bolton - Tenor & Baritone Saxophones & Flute
Dan Wright - Organ & Keyboards
Jake Livgren - Guitar, Alto Saxophone, Percussion & Lead Vocals
Craig Kew - Bass
Mike Patrum - Drums
Daryl Batchelor - Trumpet & Flugelhorn