How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
For my money, Proto-Kaw's 2004 release Before Became After was a modern-day progressive rock classic. Featuring Kansas founder and guitarist Kerry Livgren, that and this recording explore and extend concepts pursued by the group prior to the advent of its '70s-era commercial success. And while this newly issued studio session might not transcend or perhaps parallel the overall brilliance of Proto-Kaw's previous outing, it is in every sense of the word an admirable followup.
The ensemble continues to generate strong compositional frameworks consisting of windswept themes, guitar-based crunch chords, shifty time signatures and whimsical flute overlays. They also morph Eastern modal concepts into thrusting rock motifs. Think of early Genesis, Jethro Tull and other similar groups which coalesced driving overtures with regally pronounced melodies. Keyboardist Dan Wright spices up the power element with multihued textures and airy background treatments. For "On the Eve of the Great Decline, the ensemble fuses a straight-four, rocking ballad with dreamy keys and John Bolton's whispery flute lines. In other spots, Bolton (sax) and trumpeter Dave Batchelor round out hard-hitting rock numbers with snappy choruses.
On the flip side, "Melicus Gladiator surfaces as the least interesting piece, with its rather ho-hum thrash rock style, complete with Jake Livgren's overly exuberant rock star vocals. Ultimately, though, this outing highlights the artists' tight-knit workmanship and forthright approach to the material. Once again, Proto-Kaw takes a novel slant to a sometimes demure genre with distinction and chutzpah. Recommended.
Track Listing: Nevermore; Relics of the Tempest; When the Rains Come; On the Eve of the Great Decline; Physic; At Morning's Gate; Melicus Gladiator; The Vigil; Old Number 63; Osvaldo's Groceries; Picture This; (Bonus Track) One Fine Day.
Personnel: Lynn Meredith: vocals; John Bolton: tenor and baritone saxophones, flute; Kerry Livgren:
guitar, piano and keyboards, percussion, background vocals; Dan Wright: keyboards, organ;
Jake Livgren: guitar, alto saxophone, percussion, background vocals, lead vocals (7); Craig
Kew: bass, background vocals; Mike Patrum: drums. Plus Daryl Batchelor: trumpet and