KANSAS is one of those Progressive Rock bands I used to only listen to in passing. Then when I turned 22 I really gave some of their stuff a shot and was pleasantly surprised at what I found. I even managed to find a decent copy of Leftoverture on vinyl at a garage sale for a dollar that summer. Between that and my purchase of The Best of Kansas I was pretty well set for the better part of that year. Time passed, and I didn’t quite play them as often, which is downright negligible on my part.
Fast forward to now, and KANSAS is back with their first studio album in 16 years, The Prelude Implicit (September 23, InsideOut Music). This marks the recording debut of vocalist Ronnie Platt, who’s been in the band for two years, and let me tell you, there is no one better qualified to fill the void left by original singer Steve Walsh’s retirement. Not only that, there are times I close my eyes and parts of some songs sound like the band’s 1970’s output, but they’re not at all dated. Opener “With This Heart” starts off with drums, a piano melody, and Platt’s soaring vocals before the rest of the band enters with a waltz-like groove.
“Visibility Zero” showcases some beautiful guitar interplay between Zak Rizvi and Rich Williams set against a rhythmic backdrop provided by drummer Phil Ehart and bassist Billy Greer, as well as David Manion on the keyboards and David Ragsdale with his incomparable violin work. “The Unsung Heroes” is a heartfelt number about struggles we all face every day, and at times it reminds me of THE EAGLES. Platt once again does an amazing job, as he does on all tracks. Just a fantastic tune all around. The guitars take the reins for much of “Rhythm of the Spirit” and it’s one of the more prog rock songs this album has to offer.
“Refugee” is gorgeous and made up mostly of acoustic guitar and the violin. Powerful doesn’t even begin to describe it or do it justice. Those signature KANSAS vocal harmonies are front and center, too. It made the hair on my arms stand straight up when I first heard it, and continues to do so now. Those of you who really know me know that I am instantly drawn to the eight-minute plus epics on an album, so of course I had to fire up “The Voyage of Eight Eighteen” immediately. Clocking in at exactly 8:18 this is progressive rock done right and then some. Every single member gets to shine, but there’s none of that technical wankery that puts me to sleep.
“Camouflage” is heavy, punchy, and tight, with a big chorus that adds to its progressive feel. Greer actually takes lead vocal duties on one of my favorite tunes “Summer”. It’s just a great song to kick back and reminisce to with some cold brews and friends on the back deck. It’s also got some fantastic solo work from all the musicians, with everyone just jamming the hell out and having a good time. “Crowded Isolation” manages to take all the elements we’ve discussed so far and combine them into one bad mother of a rock song. The groove is addictive and the band is on fire.
Closing things out is instrumental “Section 60”, named after a part of Arlington National Cemetery. It’s most notable as the place where a lot of the people killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. The music is both mournful as well as inspiring, and a perfect way to end the record. All told The Prelude Implicit is a perfect KANSAS album from start to finish. From the very first spin I knew it was something special, and there’s just no way to justify it NOT being in my Top Albums of 2016 year end list. As a bonus, the band will be playing songs from it on their Leftoverture 40th Anniversary Tour. I’ll be at the Baltimore date, and I can’t wait!
STANDOUT TRACKS: ALL OF THEM