American progressive rock has no bigger champion than Kansas. Since the release of their last album, The Prelude Implicit (2016), the band has seen the addition of Tom Brislin on keyboards and vocals – fans may recognise his work with Yes, Camel, Meatloaf, and Debbie Harry. He and Kansas veteran Zak Rizvi collaborated to write this new album, which stays true to the type of composition and style that is the hallmark of their sound. Rizvi also co-produced the album, along with Phil Ehart and Rich Williams. This is the 16th studio album for the band, and will be officially released on 26 June 2020.
The musicianship of this lineup displays all of the best qualities of prog rock. The lyrics are beautiful, the music is expansive, and the arrangements are complex and intriguing. The eponymous opening track leads off with a lush intro, with keyboard leading to guitar, and vocal harmonies that have been a hallmark of the band’s work. The first single, Throwing Mountains, has a meaty heavy metal feel, but doesn’t betray the melodic composition. David Ragsdale’s violin solo in Jets Overhead adds to the wide open atmosphere of the piece (and makes a sweeping intro for Circus of Illusion). Ronnie Platt’s vocals have the silky warmth and flexibility of caramel, and never fail to weave into the overall composition of the songs. I found them to be especially compelling in Memories Down the Lane, where they are complemented by the haunting piano line. The album is rounded out with the instrumental piece Propulsion 1, with Ehart’s drum line accompanied by a rolling bass and keys. The production is spot on – it captures the artistry and drama of the work without feeling heavy-handed. As much as I love the simplicity of a song like Dust In The Wind, there is something equally satisfying about having your ear challenged with interweaving musical themes.
With all of the upheaval in the world right now, music may be the one island of sanity available. This album is well worth the listen – I found myself wishing there were more tracks. And, the band continues to be a presence on the road (coronavirus willing!), with a date at The London Palladium on 18 October. Europe and Scandinavia follow.