Album of the Week 15-2015: Kansas – Leftoverture

Historically, ‘Leftoverture’ would come to be known as guitarist and synth player Kerry Livgren’s album due to the writer’s block that singer and keyboard player Steve Walsh was suffering from at the time. Generally preferring Livgren’s contributions to Kansas’ albums, ‘Leftoverture’ quickly became my favorite album of the band, despite my favorite song (‘Child Of Innocence’) being on its predecessor. It’s an album that perfectly blends the band’s progressive tendencies and Rock power with their melodic sensibilities and Livgren’s philosophical wonderings. The result rivals Styx’ ‘The Grand Illusion’ as the best American progressive Rock album of the seventies.

What I like most about Kansas is that they weren’t schooled musicians, like most of the British Progrockers of the era were. Kerry Livgren’s compositions and arrangements show that he knows a great deal more of music theory than your average Rock ‘n’ Roller, but the unschooled rawness lendt the band a powerful edge that many of their British contemporaries lacked as their progressive Rock transitioned into Art Rock. Kansas has a violinist – in fact, the coolest in the genre – and a keyboard player and a half, but didn’t forget they were a Rock band first and foremost. Well, they would in the eighties, but that’s a story best left for another time.

‘Carry On Wayward Son’ functions as the shop window for this record. Despite its relative complexity, it quickly became a huge radio hit and that’s probably due to the large amount of hooks in the riffs and melodies. But it’s hardly the only highlight on the album. The album’s shortest track ‘What’s On My Mind’ may be even better, with its hard driving rhythm, jubilant chorus and the brilliant guitar interplay courtesy of Livgren and Rich Williams in its main riff.

Kansas’ more introspective approach also shows its best side on ‘Leftoverture’. ‘Miracles Out Of Nowhere’ builds from the delicate and passionate vocal work in the verses towards a powerful finale, while the beautiful ‘The Wall’ has a nearly symphonic quality with the way it works toward carefully orchestrated climaxes and Walsh’s passionate vocal delivery. Near the end of the album, the band goes full-Prog with ‘Cheyenne Anthem’ and the lengthy ‘Magnum Opus’. The latter goes through a few movements, only one of which with vocals, showing clearly the influence of classical music on the band. It’s similar, yet it rocks a lot harder.

Though the band released one more successful album before falling victim to the identity crisis that seemed to be mandatory for every band that was around in the seventies. Kansas would never rise to the height of ‘Leftoverture’ again, but then again, some bands would have killed for an album this good. For me, it combines two things I love dearly: hard driving progressive Rock with its music and lame puns with its title. Besides being the band’s best album, it’s also the ideal starting point for people who want to know what Kansas is all about, as it works its way through more accessible tracks towards a more ambitious B-side. Well worth anyone’s time.

Recommended tracks: ‘What’s On My Mind’, ‘Carry On Wayward Son’, ‘Miracles Out Of Nowhere’

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