A Life of Miracles: Kerry Livgren and the Art of Storytelling

Mircales Out of Somewhere book coverKerry Livgren has long been one of my favorite guitarists and lyricists. Next to Rush, Kansas was one of the first prog bands I ever heard. I think my first prog concert may have been Kansas (minus Livgren). I was so fascinated by Livgren and his conversion-to-Christianity-story that I wrote a paper about him for Dr. Brad Birzer’s Christian Humanism course in college in the fall of 2015. Besides Livgren’s magnificent lyrics, I also drew heavily from his autobiography, Seeds of Change, for that paper.

Back in August of this year, Livgren self-published, via his Numavox label, a new book entitled Miracles Out of Somewhere. It isn’t a typical memoir or autobiography. It does not follow a chronological structure. Rather it is a collection of 40+ short personal stories that demonstrate examples of miraculous events in Livgren’s life. Most chapters are dedicated to one story, but there are some that contain multiple brief stories centered around one theme.

Stories range from what might be considered coincidences all the way to full-blown “only God could have done this” miracles. I had known about Livgren’s 2009 stroke, but I never knew how serious it was. The doctors told him it was as bad a stroke as a human could have. The initial brain scans after the stroke showed that half his brain tissue died. Brain scans taken two years later showed the majority of that tissue was alive and perfectly healthy. Even the doctor didn’t believe the medical explanation he came up with to explain it to fellow medical professionals. Livgren still struggles with some issues related to the stroke (he had to find a new way to play “Dust in the Wind” for an appearance with Kansas last year), but for the most part he made a miraculous recovery.

The book ends with excerpts from the last few years of his journal entries as his wife dealt with an equally serious health crisis: breast cancer and heart failure caused by the cancer treatment. The surgeries and treatments worked for the cancer, but her heart was initially left in very poor shape. But, just eleven months ago they found out her heart is now completely normal after she almost needed a heart transplant eight months earlier.

Stories range to the more lighthearted as well, such as Kerry’s first time driving the Kansas tour bus after he joined the band in their early days. The steering barely worked, and the brakes were almost non-existent. After cresting a hill they found themselves hurtling towards a freight train, forcing Kerry to stand on the brake pedal with all his weight. The bus stopped a mere three feet from the tracks. Robby Steinhardt caught the whole thing on audio recording, but sadly that tape is gone.

The story about Livgren being reunited with his “Dust in the Wind” guitar a few years back, after selling it decades ago, is also a fun story, as is the one about Kansas’ first LA party with industry bigwigs. Dave Hope decided to jokingly mock a girl with a Farrah Fawcett hairdo, so he shouted “Hey Farrah.” The girl turned around, and she turned out to be Farrah Fawcett.

Miracles out of Somewhere is hard to put down. Livgren’s writing is so inviting. I felt like I was having a conversation with him. Since the stories are arranged in no particular order, the book jumps around a lot. As such it helps to have a basic knowledge of Livgren’s life and the history of Kansas. Even so that isn’t required to make this an enjoyable read. The storytelling is so good that the reader is quickly drawn in and taken back in time.

Livgren’s faith is intimately embedded in these stories, but I wouldn’t call this a religious book. He’s just telling the stories from his perspective, and his faith is inseparable from that perspective. As a Christian myself I can’t help but appreciate that aspect of the stories, but even if you’re not a Christian, don’t let that stop you from reading this book. If you’re a fan of Kansas and Livgren, you’ll enjoy it.

The book itself is just a simple paperback, likely printed by a print shop near Livgren’s home in Kansas (it’s also available as an ebook). Perhaps it lacks from some grammatical editing that a publisher’s editor could’ve added, but we’re talking about a periodic missing apostrophe and a run-on sentence here and there. As it is, the book has the charm of someone writing these stories out as-is and sending them to you. In a way it made Livgren feel closer than if the book was highly polished by a big-name publisher.

For less than $15 (a little more if you live outside the US – for international shipping) this book is a bargain. It’s only $4 for the ebook. With everything going on I found it to be a welcome escape to a seemingly simpler time (no era is ever as simple as it can seem in hindsight). Some of the stories are heavy, but the miracles God has worked in Kerry’s life bring a smile to my face and peace to my heart. If you’re sick of the negativity and want rest for your soul… well, Kerry would be the first one to tell you to turn to Jesus. But after you’ve done that, give Miracles Out of Somewhere a go. It’s a must-read for Kansas fans, and it’ll brighten your day.

Buy a physical copy from Numavox: https://www.numavox.com/cd.htm

Ebook from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Miracles-Out-Somewhere-Kerry-Livgren-ebook/dp/B08HL9Y9M8/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Kerry+Livgren&qid=1604263632&sr=8-1

Kansas, The Absence of Presence

For all that Kansas can’t (and shouldn’t) shrug off the legacy of their golden days, especially the double whammy of Leftoverture and Point of Know Return, they’ve built up quite a track record beyond the hits over the decades.  The live set that followed the big albums, Two for the Show, is still thrilling; the 1980s version of the band fronted by Steve Walsh and guitarist Steve Morse changed up the sound without diluting the essence on Power and In the Spirit of Things; the original line-up reunited for a triumphant set of new Kerry Livgren compositions on 2000’s Somewhere to Elsewhere.  And 2016’s The Prelude Implicit proved a first-class return to sustained action.  The new recruits, guitarist/songwriter Zak Rivzi and singer/keyboardist Ronnie Platt, jelled nicely with Kansas’ long-term bedrock (stalwart violinist David Ragsdale, bassist/vocalist Billy Greer) as well as the band’s remaining founders (piratical guitarist Rich Williams and progressive rock’s most criminally underrated drummer, the brilliant Phil Ehart).

The good news is that Kansas’ latest, The Absence of Presence, is another great leap forward; appealing melodies, heady complexity and breathtaking power unite for maximum impact, and the whole album is a joy to hear.  Each player has upped his game multiple notches — Ragsdale, Rivzi and Williams peel off one ear-catching riff and solo after another, Platt sings with smooth, soaring power and commitment (evoking Walsh while being utterly himself), and I could listen to Greer and Ehart’s rolling, tumbling thunder all day.  New keyboardist Tom Brislin is the perfect match for this line-up, dishing up just the right lick no matter what’s required — pensive piano intros, crushing organ and synth riffs, lush textures, wigged-out solos, you name it.

kansas band shot

But it’s how all these ingredients blend that makes The Absence of Presence compulsively listenable; the writing is more collaborative this time around (Rivzi and Brislin on music, Brislin, Pratt and Ehart on lyrics), and the band navigates the twists and turns of the tunes with pin-sharp focus.  The multi-sectioned title track, the instrumental “Propulsion 1” and the unexpected up-tempo groove of “The Song the River Sang” (with Brislin on lead vocal) revel in Kansas’ proggier side. “Throwing Mountains” “Jets Overhead” and “Circus of Illusion” prove solid rockers, laced with unpredictable musical curveballs that set up the compelling, aspirational lyrics.  And the obligatory power ballads “Memories Down the Line” and “Never” are earworms you may not want to shake, with words and melodies that bring home the heartfelt sentiments without bogging down in sticky sweetness.

In short, The Absence of Presence shows Kansas unlocking a new level of achievement, still going strong and making excellent new music more than 40 years after their initial breakthrough.  Recommended without hesitation; this one has already hit my shortlist for this year’s favorites.  Listen for yourself below.

— Rick Krueger

Coming from Inside Out Music …

Hardly breaking stride, Inside Out Music ramps up their summer schedule with a fistful of new releases (some of which had to be rescheduled due to manufacturing delays).  Unless otherwise noted, links go to CD versions of these upcoming albums available at Burning Shed; LP and download editions will also be available.

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July

August

September

 

— Rick Krueger

Kansas “Point of Know Return” Tour Resuming; Band to Return to Studio in August

Kansas – ‘Point of Know Return’ Anniversary Tour Resumes March 1st

Photo credit: EMily Butler Photography
KANSAS INTRODUCES KEYBOARDIST TOM BRISLIN AS NEWEST MEMBER OF ICONIC BAND

KANSAS RETURNING TO STUDIO IN AUGUST

ATLANTA, GA – KANSAS is excited to announce keyboardist Tom Brislin as the newest member of the band.  Brislin replaces departing keyboardist David Manion.

An internationally acclaimed musician, Brislin has performed and toured with a variety of artists, including Yes (appearing on Symphonic Live), Meat Loaf, Debbie Harry of Blondie, Camel, Renaissance, Dennis DeYoung formerly of Styx, and many others. For years he fronted the band Spiraling and produced his debut solo album Hurry Up and Smell the Roses.

Most recently, Tom co-founded the progressive rock group The Sea Within. Along with guitarist Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings, bassist Jonas Reingold of the Steve Hackett band, and drum star Marco Minnemann, they released their first album in 2018 on Sony/Inside Out Music, joining KANSAS on the label’s roster. Tom has also formed Gold Rotation, a collective of diverse musicians and songwriters who premiered with a performance at Progstock Festival in 2018.

KANSAS original member and drummer, Phil Ehart comments, “We are extremely excited for Tom Brislin to be the newest member of KANSAS.  We think KANSAS fans will really enjoy what Tom brings to the band.  Rehearsals for the spring have been going great.  We cannot wait to get back out on the road and perform for KANSAS fans. Then, it’s into the studio in August to begin a new KANSAS album, and back out on tour in September.”

Brislin adds, “It’s an honor to be asked to join a such legendary band as KANSAS. Their music has been in the soundtrack to so many of our lives, and their repertoire has enduring depth, beauty, and power. I’m thrilled to perform the classics and I’m equally excited to be a part of the new music that KANSAS creates.”

Brislin’s first performances with KANSAS will be aboard the Rock Legends Cruise in February, followed by March 1 in Baltimore, MD at the Modell Lyric where the band will be resuming the Point of Know Return Anniversary Tour.  The band will perform a set of KANSAS Classics at shows throughout the summer, before returning to the studio to begin a new KANSAS album in August 2019.

A complete list of announced 2019 KANSAS tour dates is listed below.  Ticket & VIP Package information can be found at KansasBand.com

SPRING 2019 KANSAS POINT OF KNOW RETURN TOUR DATES
March 1         Baltimore, MD     The Modell Lyric
March 3         Wilkes-Barre, PA     F.M. Kirby Center
March 8         Des Moines, IA        Hoyt Sherman Place
March 9         Peoria, IL        Peoria Civic Center Theater
March 15       Salina, KS        Stiefel Theatre for the Performing Arts
March 16       Salina, KS        Stiefel Theatre for the Performing Arts
March 21       Charleston, WV     Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences
March 23       Louisville, KY         Louisville Palace Theatre
March 29       Beaver Creek, CO    Vilar Performing Arts Center
March 30       Denver, CO       Paramount TheatreApril 2            Tucson, AZ          Fox Tucson Theatre
April 4            San Diego, CA     Balboa Theatre
April 6            Los Angeles, CA      The Orpheum Theatre
April 7            Santa Barbara, CA    The Arlington Theatre
April 10          Oakland, CA      Paramount Theatre
April 12          Portland, OR     Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
April 13          Seattle, WA      Paramount Theatre
April 24          Vancouver, BC, Canada       The Orpheum
April 26          Edmonton, AB, Canada       Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
April 28          Calgary, AB, Canada            Jack Singer Concert Hall
April 30          Saskatoon, SK, Canada       TCU PlaceMay 1             Regina, SK, Canada       Conexus Arts Centre
May 3             Winnipeg, MB, Canada    Burton Cummings Theatre
May 10           Rockford, IL            Coronado Performing Arts Center
May 11           Fort Wayne, IN        Foellinger TheatreSUMMER 2019 KANSAS CLASSICS DATES  May 17          Ocala, FL              Square Cultural Center
May 18          Coconut Creek, FL      Seminole Casino Coconut Creek
May 24          Biloxi, MS             Beau Rivage Resort & Casino
May 30          Bethlehem, PA      Sands Event Center
May 31          Atlantic City, NJ           Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
June 1           Atlantic City, NJ           Hard Rock Hotel & Casino

Tom Timely’s “The Elf King”–a Prog Masterpiece?

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Just a smidgeon of confidence!

Tom Timely has written, produced, and released a single under the title, “The Elf King.”  Unfortunately, at the moment, it seems only to be available as a Facebook video. Here’s hoping Timely will move it to Youtube.

 

Somewhat astoundingly, Timely begins his video with “Introducing A Prog-Rock Masterpiece,” all in Tolkienian, Elven script.

Indeed, he writes on his Facebook post:

My new song! Remind yourself of an earlier time over and over…until it becomes your reality. Think of the things you could do if you had the key to unlock the past….You could change things! Some call it nostalgia, I call it the key. Check out my song and see if it takes you back.

So, kudos to Mr. Timely for possessing so much confidence.  His pronouncement of “introducing” a “classic” reminds me of the founding father Benjamin Franklin when he wrote, rather proudly, that he possessed the virtue of humility.

Some things, simply put, cannot be bestowed on one’s self.  Anyway, I’ll just take this as Mr. Timely’s enthusiasm.

The single, “The Elf King,” is quite excellent, introducing us to some very Yes-ish bass, combined with Kansas and Genesis-like keyboards throughout much of the song, though harpsicord is the first instrument the listener hears.  I can’t quite place the voice, but Timely (I’m assuming it’s Timely on vocals) has a Styx-like feel to me.  While the entire middle and sections sound very reminiscent of Tony Banks’s work on Gabriel-era Genesis, the song itself seems to have been a long, forgotten part of Leftoverature.

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Since I’ve referenced Yes, Genesis, Kansas, and Styx, you might very well get the opinion that this is pure nostalgia prog.  Heck, even Timely himself admits the element of nostalgia. Yet, this song is definitely more than a sum of its parts, and no one of the bands mentioned above could’ve written this song as is.  Thus, there’s a real genius in the way Timely pulls all of this older pieces together into a new whole.

I have a feeling Timely might very well have introduced a masterpiece. What say you???

 

 

Bryan’s Best of 2017

Here we are again, folks. We find ourselves at the end of another great year for prog. Sadly, we’ve had to say goodbye to some amazing artists this year, including John Wetton, but we at least have their music by which to remember them.

I know I’ve been a bit quiet here at Progarchy lately due to beginning graduate school this fall. Hopefully things settle down going forward, and I’ll be able to contribute more. For now, here are my favorite albums from 2017 in vaguely ascending order.

Continue reading “Bryan’s Best of 2017”

CEO’s Ten Favorite Prog & Rock CDs of 2016

After failing to post any “Favorite Music of 2015…” lists last year, I’ve decided that I should avoid elaborate explanations for my choices, but simply note a thing or two about each release that captured my ears and held my attention. I’ve also decided to post three separate but fairly short lists: Prog/Rock, Jazz, and Everything Else. In short, I’m trying to kill my propensity for overkill. I suspect I’ll fail! Here, first, are my picks for favorite prog & rock albums of the past year (give or take a few months):

• “The Prelude Implicit” by Kansas | This is, I think, one of the best feel-good stories in kansas_thepreludeimplicitprog of 2016. After all, Kansas could have just kept touring and playing the same old—ranging from good to great to classic—tunes. Instead, they produced a very good, even great, album. As I wrote in my Progarchy.com review: “In short, the band has found a commendable and impressive balance between old and new, with plenty of prog-heavy, classic Kansas-like passages, but with an emphasis on ensemble playing over solos.  … Kansas is to be commended for embracing their past while clearly moving forward with a confident and often exceptional collection of songs. Highly recommended for both longtime Kansas fans and for those who like melodic, well-crafted prog that puts the emphasis on memorable songs and musical cohesion over theatrics and solos.”

 “Secrets” by Ian Fletcher Thornley | I was initially flummoxed by this album, expecting thornley_secretsa variation on the hard-rocking, high energy music of Big Wreck and Thornley, both fronted, of course, by the prolific Canadian singer, guitarist, writer, and producer. I finally listened to it late one night, in the dark, and I finally heard it on its own terms: acoustic, reflective, mellow, mournful, defiant, sad, and yet shot through with a sense of cautious hope. Thornley demonstrates that his remarkable writing skills are equal to his vocal prowess, which is an aural wine bearing hints of Big Country (“Frozen Pond”), Chris Cornell (“Feel”), Peter Gabriel (“Stay”), Bruce Springsteen (“Just To Know I Can”), and Jeff Buckley (“Blown Wide Open”). In the end, this is a modern blues record featuring every shade and hue of sadness, longing, and loss.

Continue reading “CEO’s Ten Favorite Prog & Rock CDs of 2016”

Kansas’ “The Prelude Implicit” is both agreeably familiar and remarkably fresh

The members of Kansas, 2016 (Photo: www.kansasband.com)
The members of Kansas, 2016 (Photo: http://www.kansasband.com)

The title of the new Kansas album—“The Prelude Implicit”—is open to some interpretation, but the intent of the cover art, which features a phoenix, seems clear enough: regeneration and rebirth. The legendary band has long been known for non-stop touring, but the past few years have seen the sort of changes that either mark the end or a new beginning (and that is, I suppose, the likely implicit message of the album’s title). Like many other groups that achieved great commercial success in the 1970s, Kansas has gone through several line-ups, as I cover in some detail in this 2013 review of a John Elefante album.

The members of Kansas, 2016 (Image: www.kansasband.com)
The members of Kansas, 2016 (Image: http://www.kansasband.com)

And there, of course, is the Big Rub, because when bands split and original members leave, fans are often faced with a dilemma: Is Kansas really Kansas without Steve Walsh singing and playing keyboards, or Kerry Livgren playing guitar and keyboards, or Robby Steinhardt on violin and vocals? (Those who like to keep track of such things can find a good chronology here.) Livgren, of course, was key to the band’s distinctive, detailed, and orchestrated sound in the first decade, writing music that was at turns melodic (“Dust in the Wind”), anthemic (“Carry On My Wayward Son”), and esoteric (“Incomudro – Hymn to the Atman”, “Cheyenne Anthem”, etc), with lyrics that were loaded with references to spiritual turmoil, seeking, and wandering. And Walsh, the bad boy of the group, proved to be one of the finest vocalists of the era, with a pure, powerful tenor that was equally muscular and soulful (until the excesses of the oft-cited “rock lifestyle” began to eat away at it). Both facts come through clearly in the excellent documentary “Miracles Out of Nowhere”, which marked the band’s 40th anniversary and, it seems, marked a certain line of demarcation. “In truth,” I wrote in my review of the documentary,

some bands are far more interesting for what they did off the stage than for what they did on the stage. And then there are bands that really are, at the end of the day, all about the music, and it seems quite clear that Kansas is in the latter camp. It is rather striking how ordinary these six musicians appear to be, with only Walsh (who retired last year) giving occasional glimpses into a more prickly, difficult side. Ehart, whose warm humor and casual self-deprecating approach make him the star of the documentary, is keen to praise his bandmates, expressing obvious awe over Walsh’s vocal prowess and Livgren’s songwriting, saying that back in the day he didn’t think of Livgren as a musical genius, but perhaps only because they ate hamburgers together. And even Livgren, who nearly died in 2009 after suffering a stroke, seems genuinely surprised at the astounding run of classic songs he produced in those years, offering up thanks to God in a somewhat “Ah, shucks” sort of way.

Watching “Miracles Out of Nowhere” three times and listening to “The Prelude Implicit” some two dozen times now, I think that while the genius of Livgren and the distinctive abilities of Walsh are essential to the classic Kansas sound (the five first albums especially), we mustn’t overlook the duo that has proven to be the glue for Kansas for so long now: guitarist Richard Williams and drummer (and manager) Phil Ehart. I have long thought that Ehart, in particular, has never received proper recognition for his drumming, which is both virtuosic and musical—just listen, say, to “Song for America” and hear how he carries the entire tune and yet does so without drawing attention to his playing. In a word, his playing is “tasteful”. Ehart is the ultimate team player, and that quality comes through in the new album, on which he co-wrote nine of the 10 cuts. There is a certain Kansas-ish structure to songs—even ballads such as “The Unsung Heroes”—that shines through, and Ehart’s playing is essential to it. Continue reading “Kansas’ “The Prelude Implicit” is both agreeably familiar and remarkably fresh”

Personal Playlist by Iris (26 August 2016) — Grendel HeadQuarters

My latest playlist was next month, so it’s time for a new one! This playlist also contains some FREE music downloads, yippehyayeeeh! Here are some albums I’m listening to lately…(go click on the link below to see all the albums!)

via Personal Playlist by Iris (26 August 2016) — Grendel HeadQuarters