|Kansas is one of the most musically distinctive rock 'n' roll bands America has ever produced. This CD and DVD collection, 'Works In Progress,' captures work recorded between 1992 and 2002, one third of a colorful career spanning more than 30 years.
The original lineup of vocalist/keyboardist Steve Walsh, vocalist/violinist Robby Steinhardt, guitarist/keyboardist Kerry Livgren, guitarist Richard Williams, bass guitarist Dave Hope and drummer Phil Ehart fused the power of hard rock with the finesse of progressive rock. Starting in their native Topeka, the six young musicians paid their dues with endless gigs on the tough-as-nails bar and club circuit throughout the state during the early 1970s.
Several things set Kansas apart from the competition, the most obvious being the music. Walsh had a soaring voice, Steinhardt's violin work was previously unheard of in a rock context and Livgren's songwriting often tackled philosophical subjects. Kansas only played original material, and that's largely because the members often said they were the world's worst cover band! If rowdy bar patrons protested what they were hearing, Kansas would often fib by introducing an original as a cut on the new Deep Purple album, for example. Also, the band did not have an image; in their overalls, jeans and cowboy boots they resembled farmers more than anything. Even though this was well before MTV necessitated that an artist's look equal, if not exceed, actual musical talent, it did present a marketing challenge.
Finally, legendary music business figure Don Kirshner signed the band as Kirshner Records' first act. Kansas released its self-titled debut album in 1974, and success was built steadily through endless touring. 'Song For America' and 'Masque' followed in 1975. 'Leftoverture' became a giant hit in 1976 on the strength of the single "Carry On Wayward Son." The artistic and multiplatinum-sales winning streak continued with 1977's 'Point Of Know Return' and its centerpiece "Dust In The Wind," the biggest hit of Kansas' career. "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Dust In The Wind" are now eternal classics. The double live album 'Two For The Show' was released in 1978, followed by 'Monolith' in 1979 and 'Audio-Visions' in 1980. Walsh left Kansas to purse a solo career and was replaced by John Elefante on 1982's 'Vinyl Confessions.' Steinhardt exited prior to 1983's 'Drastic Measures.'
After three years of inactivity, Kansas re-formed with Walsh, Williams and Ehart joined by guitarist Steve Morse and bass guitarist Billy Greer; Morse was a member of the Dixie Dregs and Greer had worked with Walsh in the band Streets. The result was 1986's 'Power.' The concept album 'In The Spirit Of Things' appeared in 1988. (Keyboardist Greg Robert had joined as a touring member by this time.)
The late 1980s and early 1990s were a tough time for Kansas -- and other veteran artists. Kansas and its peers literally had record companies tell them that the public was no longer interested in fresh albums or seeing them perform live. Then a strange thing happened. The boom in "classic rock" radio gave these artists a new lease on life. Kansas climbed on the bus and toured the country repeatedly, rebuilding its confidence and reconnecting with fans who had never really gone away despite what flat-out-wrong industry executives said.
Walsh, Williams, Ehart, Greer, Robert and new violinist David Ragsdale released 'Live At The Whisky' on CD and videocassette in 1992. It was recorded and filmed early that year at the legendary Whisky A Go-Go on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Livgren made a special guest appearance. "Mysteries And Mayhem," "Portrait (He Knew)" and "Down The Road" from that show are presented here on both the CD and DVD.
'Freaks Of Nature' arrived in 1995 and it was Kansas' first new material in seven years. The album's standout songs "I Can Fly," "Black Fathom 4," "Under The Knife," "Freaks Of Nature" and "Peaceful And Warm" are included on this CD.
Longtime fans were happy to hear about Steinhardt's return in 1997 prior to one of Kansas' most ambitious projects ever. The band re-recorded many of its classics with the revered London Symphony Orchestra for 1998's 'Always Never The Same.' The subsequent tour found Kansas performing with local orchestras in each city. The 'Always Never The Same' versions of "Dust In The Wind," "Hold On," "Cheyenne Anthem," "Song For America" and "The Wall" are found on this collection's CD while the DVD also features 5.1 Surround Sound remixes of "Dust In The Wind" and "Hold On."
The 2000 studio album 'Somewhere To Elsewhere' found all the original members and Greer performing songs written by Livgren to honor Kansas' 25th anniversary.
Kansas' longtime lineup of Walsh, Williams, Ehart, Steinhardt and Greer recorded and filmed its June 15, 2002, concert at Earthlink Live! in Atlanta, Georgia, for the DVD and double live album 'Device Voice Drum' released that autumn. The milestone event was shot on film, not videotape, resulting in a lush visual experience. This 'Works In Progress' DVD includes "Intro," "Belexes," "Icarus II" and "Icarus - Borne On Wings Of Steel" from 'Device Voice Drum.'
The material contained here on 'Works In Progress' demonstrates Kansas' fearless creative momentum -- a significant portion of a groundbreaking career spent as a work in progress.
- Bret Adams