PRIME MOVER (1988) - In the late 1980’s, AD had run into some pretty serious financial hardships which required Kerry to release one last AD album, “Prime Mover.” Kerry played all of the instruments himself except for woodwinds, sax, and harmonica. These instruments as well as lead vocals were handled by Warren Ham who had been absent from the “Reconstructions” album. Even though all the instrumentation was done by Kerry, the album doesn’t have the “mechanical” feel that some albums made with sequencers can have. There are still dynamics a-plenty, and Kerry's guitar work really shines on all the tracks. As I sat down to listen to this album to prepare this essay, it struck me that this album of “leftovers and demos” is probably the best AD album in terms of consistency. Here’s a song by song analysis.
1. Don’t Pass Me By - Quite the punchy opener. Great flute work by Warren Ham and fine vocals as well. Not as memorable as some of the other songs contained within, though.
2. Fathers and Sons - Not the feel-good song of the century, but the powerful lyrics and driving beat make this a real standout track. This would have made a great concept video.
3. Portrait II - I hate to say it, but it just doesn’t hold up to the version on “POKR”, even with the lyrical changes. “Justice satisfied” is a theme that appears frequently in Livgren’s solo work. The music sounds like he changed it just for the sake of it, and didn’t really push as hard as he could’ve creatively. I guess when I heard that he had redone “Portrait” I just expected more than this.
4. Children of the Shadows - Tied with “I’ll Follow You” as my favorite from this album. I’ve heard tapes of this tune with Steve Walsh on vocals and would’ve loved to hear Kansas do a finished version of it. This song just screams for violin IMO. Livgren uses imagery to the max with these lyrics which just give me chills. The end is very similar to the end of “A Glimpse of Home” from “Monolith” with lots of cathedral sounding bells. Very powerful indeed.
5. Wandering Spirit - Great lyrics which have probably applied to all of us at one time or another. In the revised version of the book “Seeds of Change,” these are the only AD lyrics Kerry wanted to include because they were so pertinent to him at the time. Great vocals by Warren only enhance this superb song. Also contains the “justice satisfied” theme mentioned in “Portrait II.”
6. I’ll Follow You - The only song on the album written totally by an outside writer, former lead vocalist/keyboardist Mike Gleason. The lyrics are superb, nothing less. I still get a headrush when I hear the line “Things that used to be have no hold on me now” and think about what that really means in this context. Warren does a great job with this one, but I’ve often wondered why Mike didn’t handle the vocal chores (he did the bgv’s, though). The fadeout guitar work is really melodic and fits the song perfectly. One of the best things to ever come out of AD.
7. A New Kind of Love - Reggae/ska/blues/rock? Only Livgren could pull this off and even begin to make it work. Warren’s vocals are grating, though. The gurgling faux blues thing just isn’t his forte’. He also uses this vocal style on “T.G.B.” at the end of the album. I guess I just prefer his clear soaring style. Really good effects help this track shine.
8. One More Song - This would have been the perfect album closer. It lyrically lends itself to that notion, and the lead and harmony vocals are glistening. You can tell that this song must not have been too much of a “throwaway” for Kerry as the lyrics, vocals, and instrumentation make this much more than just a leftover track. The way the chorus smoothes out after the verse is a nice surprise.
9. T.G.B. - What “TGB” stands for remains a mystery to me (enlighten me, please) but it’s a pretty strong song nonetheless. Not withstanding the bluesy growl I mentioned in “New Kind of Love,” Warren does a great job interpreting this tune. The last verse is extremely powerful.
As of this writing (January ‘98) Kerry and Warren are in the studio reworking almost all of “Prime Mover” for re-release in the spring and, to be quite honest, I hope they don’t do too much to it. It will be interesting to see how the music evolves and if Warren’s voice has changed any in the last 10 years. There are supposed to be new songs on the release that will be analyzed here when they are available.
WHEN THINGS GET ELECTRIC (1995) - This album was recorded once in Covington, GA, and then almost entirely re-recorded in Kerry’s new studio in Berryton, KS. I’m not entirely sure what difference this made, but the album is a striking one. Some of the songs date back to the writing sessions that produced “Wheels” for the Kansas boxed set. Kerry also says that there are various demos of some of these songs with Steve Walsh and, on one track, Billy Greer handling lead vocals (thanx to Bill Hammell’s Kerry Livgren site). What would you give to hear those??? Vocals were handled by Darren Rogers and Jason Beddoe, and we even have a cameo appearance from ex-Kansas violinist David Ragsdale on a couple of songs. Part of the re-recording was said to be at the request of Kerry’s onetime record label Rex records. At their request, outside players were added to give the album more of a band feel as opposed to one guy and his sequencers (see “Prime Mover”). “WTGE” definitely benefits from the involvement of bassist Craig Kew and drummer Chris Kearney. How ‘bout them songs?
1. When Things Get Electric (Prelude) (Livgren) - Actually the last thing recorded for the album, this intro was recorded as a bit of musical irony (an acoustic interlude about things getting electric). When Kerry decided to keep it, it was moved to the front of the album.
2. When Things Get Electric (Livgren) - Based on the return of Christ, this midpaced rocker starts off the official proceedings nicely. The dueling guitar and violin solos in the middle are amazing. Makes you wonder about that “Bizarro Kansas” theory I had some time back. The applause at the end of the track is interesting in light of the subject matter...I would’ve expected more.
3. Turn On the Lights (Livgren) - The vocal on this song borrows more than a little from Loverboy’s Mike Reno. Starting off slow, this track builds into a full blown rock song nicely. A great variation on a common Livgren theme. A really tasteful guitar solo is present as well, rounding out the song.
4. Two Thousand Down (Livgren) - A flowing song about the approaching judgement. I really like the lyric “the future’s born in our history.” Drums on this track only are by Kerry, and fit the song well. Check out the interlude after the second chorus. There’s almost too much cool stuff going on...you have to listen a few times to really get it all. Very Mike Gleasonesque vocals and a brief synth flute part bring AD to mind.
5. Smoke Is Rising (Livgren) - Hey all you Kansas history buffs...catch the reference to Pandemonium Mass. More of a low key tune than the others, it’s still easy to get caught up in. This could’ve gone on Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye right beside One Dark World. A very moody piece.
6. Throw Me Down (Livgren) - This is probably the most Kansas-sounding song on the album, and it’s a powerhouse. Of particular mention is the line “I see the mirror and my enemy staring back at me in wonder.” The vocalist is definitely trying to cop a Warren Ham style on this one. The solo section is really interesting...you’d just have to hear it. The melodic ending is a good contrast to the rest of the tune.
7. One Dark World (Livgren) This song will appeal to anyone who has ever liked Pink Floyd. This song just flows along, complimented by almost dreamlike lyrics. Even the guitar solo sounds like it could be David Gilmour. A really cool break from the rockers.
8. No Holds Barred (Livgren/Rogers) - A very telling song about today’s “anything goes” society, and the lack of standards today. The solo section is really the high point of the song, even as powerful as the lyrics are. Some very interesting changes in a very short time.
9. Sweet Child (Livgren) - A love song from Kerry to his kids. The first verse is especially moving. I guess you’d call this a lullaboogie, since it doesn’t fit the standard “child’s ballad” format. A very effective message and a great song.
10. A Hero’s Canticle (Livgren) - This one took awhile to grow on me, as I think the music isn’t quite up to what the lyrics and overall theme demand. This sounds to me like a Kerry tune two or three edits before the public usually hears it. With some polish and another crack at the music, this one could shine.
11. Racing Away (Livgren/Pack) - Written with longtime friend David Pack of Ambrosia, this is a great tune. Boy, if these two ever put a band together... I would’ve loved to have heard David sing this tune. According to Kerry, the Power-era Kansas recorded a version of this that I’d also love to hear (thanks again, Bill!). Very aggressive guitar work with Hammond organ flourishes add a lot to an already terrific song. Lyrically, this one looks toward the life we have after this one is done.
12. Like a Whisper (Livgren/Neuen) - A little poppier than I usually like from Kerry, but a good song nonetheless. The awesome violin solo is a major redeeming factor. The lyrics help lift the tune a little higher than it would be with weaker imagery.
13. Xylon (The Tree) - Kerry explains in an interview with John Bowes that the Greek text doesn’t differentiate the word “Cross” from the word “tree.” This explanation helps interpret the chorus a lot (“The tree stands tall, it’s mighty branches cover all”). IMO, the lyrics are a combination of Christ’s sacrifice and the glory that awaits all who believe on Him. The music in this song is so majestic and interesting. No “three-chord slammer” here. The soft keyboard swells that end the album are simply incredible.
RECONSTRUCTIONS [RECONSTRUCTED] (1997) - The events that constitute the making of this album are a little vague, but I have been able to piece together the following: After the "Art of the State" tour, AD was beginning to experience serious financial hardships. Kerry was trying to put on the same caliber of shows that Kansas had, and the lower-paying Christian marketplace could not support it. Kerry and Dave have said that they didn’t take any salary from AD for two years or better just to make it more feasible to keep AD on the road and active. Also around this time, Warren Ham left AD to explore his own musical avenues. It was recently revealed via a post from Kerry discussing the cover art for "Prime Mover" that, while recorded under the AD bannerhead, that Reconstructions was pretty much Kerry and Michael Gleason. Kerry said that Dave and Dennis played on some tracks, but didn’t say which ones. The drums in particular are a mystery as to who played what, given the fact that Dennis played an electronic kit or an acoustic kit with triggers. Warren’s absence is definitely felt vocally, and on several tracks a synth-flute keyboard sound is used where Warren would have played. Also of some interest is the presence of Terry Brock on background vocals. Terry was featured with Kansas during the "Drastic Measures" era and also sang bgv’s on 1988’s "In the Spirit of Things" as well as "Time Line." Ironically, he is currently the violinist of Shooting Star! Kerry later expressed regret over the album's mediocre recording quality and re-recorded much of it as "Reconstructions (Reconstructed)" - the version of the album included here. Let’s get to the songs.
1. One Golden Thread (Livgren) - Betrayed by a mid-tempo keyboard intro, this tune rocks and gets the album off to a great start both musically and thematically. This should have been a huge hit at secular radio, as the lyrics are open for numerous interpretations.
2. Walking the Wire (Gleason) - A little too techno-dance for my taste, but lyrically very strong. Mike pulls no punches in criticizing the Supreme Court in this song. I’m just guessing that he’s following up the anti-abortion song "Games of Chance" from "AotS" with this number. The synthesized horns are a nice added touch, and the parts are tricky, yet tasteful.
3. We Draw the Line (Livgren) - Kerry has often said that he believes that his best guitar work was done with AD, and this song must be part of what he had in mind. The soloing during the intro is awesome! Mike does a great job on vocals, but to me this song was made for Warren to sing. The multi-layered guitars during the middle solo are superb.
4. No Standing (Livgren) - Almost a thematic answer to "Dust in the Wind" (And the end is really only the beginning), "No Standing" is also musically in the vein of that song. Note the flutes underplaying the vocal melody. The mild percussion helps the song move, but not too quickly.
5. All In Time (Gleason) - This song was originally recorded in 1986, but left off the original release, and I can’t for the life of me imagine why. This is what the catchphrase "lost gems" really means. A very telling commentary of how some seem to work their lives away with no concern for what really matters. Of particular note is the opening lyric "The silent confirmation/Selling our souls to the clock." Who among us hasn’t done it at some point. Check out Kerry’s incredibly melodic solo. Short, but sweet.
6. Exiles (Livgren) - Very interesting musical and tempo changes in this one keep things going. The lyrics are a take on the Biblical principle that Christians are to be in the world but not of this world. More keyboard/flute work makes this one soar.
7. Life of Crime (Gleason) - Kerry’s guitar work in the intro foreshadows the vocal melody nicely. Lots of great chord changes in this one. It’s kind of obvious that this one’s written by a keyboard player. It’s hard to explain, it’s just that kind of song. The lyrics call to mind lots of imagery. Lots of references that would make Steve Walsh proud ("We’re out of control," "We’re still running into the wind and leading a life of crime," "We show our colors under the gun," etc.).
8. You Are the Distance (Gleason/Livgren) - The lyrics aren’t explicit, but this seems to be a song about the difficulties in living in this world, yet trying to conform to the image of Jesus Christ ("Can I ever become all that You became?"). The production of this tune leaves a little to be desired. Some more of the killer guitar work Kerry exhibits elsewhere would be very welcome on this song.
9. All Fall Down (Livgren/Gleason) - Speaking of killer guitar work, listen to this intro, especially the muted notes. This song is thematically very similar to "Crossfire" from "Vinyl Confessions," only this time Kerry is free to be as overtly Christian as he pleases, and makes the most of it.
10. Highway to the Heart (Gleason) - Vocally it sounds like Mike is trying to emulate Warren on this number. I love the lyric "Running in circles, no destination/Just the delusion that you do as you please." A few well-placed chord changes help the music rise above what it would’ve been in lesser hands.
11. Free Fire Zone (Livgren) - One of the two songs used to audition Mike Gleason in Kerry’s studio. The flute work in the song (considering the time frame) is some serious foreshadowing of things that would follow, particularly on "Art of the State." Even though this was recorded two years prior to "Reconstructions," it still fits well with the rest of the songs. Lyrically this one brings to mind "Fair Exchange."
12. Bright Star (Livgren) - The other song that served as Mike’s audition. Interesting string parts during the bridge lift an already great song to a whole other plane. The only complaint (albeit a small one) is that the guitar solo doesn’t really fit the rest of the song. It’s almost as if it were added just for the sake of having one. The solo on the outro works much better. A song of thanks to the Lord from a new Christian.
To continue the Kerry Livgren/AD saga
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