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

My Top 10 Albums No One Else Likes or Listens To: Album #10

oldrecords
(us.fotolia.com/peuceta)

Yes, the title is an exaggeration. Perhaps it should be “albums no one admits to listening to or liking”! I’m sure there are plenty of others who like some of these albums. In fact, a few of these albums sold quite well. But reviews tended to be tepid, mixed, or worse. And in certain circles (yes, I’m looking at you, Rolling Stone magazine), most of these albums were either panned or scorned. Or they were simply ignored. (Deep question: “If Chris Cornell makes an album with Timbaland and no one listens to it, does it really exist?”)

The bottom line, I suppose, is that these albums tend to not fit comfortably into the larger body of an artist’s or band’s work. It might be that the album simply isn’t as good as other albums; or, it tended to be dismissed or downplayed because of apparent shortcomings or actual flaws. But, for me, these are often the most interesting albums, even if they are not the best albums. Just as really great people become more human and thus more fascinating when their flaws or failures are revealed or recognized, great artists reveal something in work that is “left field” or somehow not considered to be 10/10 material. (And, yes, I do consider ABBA to be a great band. Really. I’ll explain why soon enough.)

I’ll be posting my Top 10 “albums no one else listens to or likes” over the next few weeks. The first album on my list is: Continue reading “My Top 10 Albums No One Else Likes or Listens To: Album #10”

As “My Wayward Son” approaches 40, it carries on its commercial ways

Kansas’ “Carry On My Wayward Son”, from the 1976 album Leftoverture, was the band’s breakthrough hit, reaching #11 on Billboard and ushering in the Golden Age of Classic Kansas (c. 1976-1980). As Kerry Livgren noted in the excellent documentary “Miracles Out of Nowhere” (see my Progarchy review), the song came to him rather suddenly and it is loaded with hooks, bursting forth like ears of corn in a Kansas cornfield (as, yes, that’s a rather corny but apt metaphor). If, by chance, you’ve never heard the song (yeah, right), here it is performed live circa 1976:

(Is Steve Walsh a madman, or what!?) The original 7″ single of the song was an edited 3:26 version; the entire song is two minutes longer. Thus, the single has more of a classic/hard rock feel, while the album version–especially in the context of the entire, brilliant Leftoverture–is much more proggy. Regardless, what is surprising, nearly four decades later, is how this hard rock/prog song continues to make appearances in somewhat unexpected places. Such as beer commercials (full disclosure: I drink only micro brews):

Apparently the song has been played several times in the drama “Supernatural” (which I’ve never watched), including in some rather striking forms:

Not surprisingly, the song has been covered a number of times. But the Wikipedia (boo! hiss) entry on such covers missed one of the more interesting renditions, performed by the all female Christian rock band Rachel Rachel back in 1991, on the debut album “Way To My Heart”. In the video for the song, Kerry Livgren joins the band to play guitar; however, much of the guitar on the studio album was actually played by producer/guitarist/vocalist Dan Huff–who fronted the group Giant (“Last of the Runaways” is a scorching album), has played guitar on Madonna albums, and produced Megadeth, Keith Urban, Faith Hill, and a bazillion other artists:

Finally, what is perhaps most refreshing about the success of “Carry On…” (as well as “Dust in the Wind”) is the lyrical content. The song isn’t about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, but peace, searching, and ultimate rest: “Nothing equals the splendor/Now your life’s no longer empty/Surely heaven waits for you.”

Kerry Livgren on the Current State of Music

Kerry Livgren.
Kerry Livgren.

A fascinating section from Kerry Livgren’s autobiography, now posted at his website.

I am often asked to comment or voice my opinion about contemporary music, both secular and sacred. I usually decline because an honest response to the question would require a great deal of labor on my part to bring it about, and I’m not sure that my opinions are any more valid than those of others. Yet, I am continually asked, so I will attempt to formulate my thoughts in this abbreviated version.

One of the problems in answering such a question is that “contemporary music” covers such an incredibly broad spectrum that it is difficult to know exactly what part of that spectrum I am to comment on. Besides, exactly what are the boundaries of “contemporary” anyway? Five years, two years, ten years, a hundred? One thing I know; the fickleness of American popular music listeners is astounding. Today, a piece of music can cease to be contemporary in a matter of months! It turns stale like a piece of bread. We have divided recent eras of popular music into decades or less, as if any possible social or artistic relevance in a song could not reach beyond that short span of time.

This essay is well worth reading and considering.  To read the full thing, go here: http://www.numavox.com/seeds.htm

Miracles (and Music) Out of Kansas

kansas_miraclesIn one of my first posts here at Progarchy.com–“A Pilgrim’s Prog-ress”–I wrote about the key role that Kansas (the band, not the state) played in opening the doors to prog for me:

Around 1985 or so, I bought a copy of “The Best of Kansas”. That opened the door to prog. There was something about the mixture of Livgren’s lead guitar, Steinhardt’s violin, and Steve Walsh’s amazing voice, along with lyrics soaked in spiritual longing and Americana, that grabbed me by the scrawny neck. Over the next three or four years, I ended up collecting everything by Kansas, Kerry Livgren (solo and with AD), and Steve Morse (solo, Dixie Dregs, etc.). My favorite Kansas albums are “Song for America” and “In the Spirit of Things”, although they weren’t the chart-toppers that “Point of Know Return” and “Leftoverture” were.

Early on in the documentary, “Miracles Out of Nowhere”, which was released in March, drummer Phil Ehart emphasizes that it was Livgren’s song writing, Steinhardt’s violin, and Walsh’s vocals that made Kansas such a distinctive-sounding band in the 1970s. He is surely correct about that, but he also, in saying so, humbly passes over another key to the band’s steady rise and eventually rather surreal success (or miraculous, a consistent theme in the documentary): he own unassuming, balanced personality and rooted, yet deeply musical, drumming. As Garth Brooks, one of several rather surprising guests, marvels in recalling his first Kansas show: “It was the first time I’d seen a drummer play actual notes!”

Miracles and music: those are the two constant themes throughout the documentary, which begins with childhood memories and concludes with 1977’s “Point of Know Return”, Kansas’ fifth album and the apex of the band’s commercial success (it hit #4 in the U.S. and featured the band’s biggest hit and best-known song, “Dust in the Wind”). That album is, arguably, a fitting conclusion to the documentary as the band would soon learn there really are points of no return; or, in the words a certain young lady, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”. It wasn’t long, in fact, before Walsh departed, then Livgren, and then the band entered into the post-classic-Kansas era (I provide some details here). Continue reading “Miracles (and Music) Out of Kansas”

Happy Birthday to a Hero

kerry
Kerry Livgren

That brooding stare from the record sleeve of Leftoverture (1976) belongs to Kerry Livgren, born this day in 1949.  Despite being an early Boomer, Livgren was (as he wrote in the song “Two Cents Worth”) “born in the wrong century.” At an early age he was rapt in the majesty of Lutheran hymns, Strauss, and Wagner, rising from a Swedish church and a relative’s phonograph into the wide sky above Topeka, Kansas. Although his early gigs included a R&B band, Livgren would carry the classics with him into a career that carved out one of the most distinctive sounds in progressive rock — a fusion of jazz, classical, arena rock, and country. The music of Kansas (the band) was as fierce, dynamic, and restless as the cover art to their eponymous first release, a painting by John Stuart Curry of John Brown astride “bleeding Kansas.”

As a teenager growing up in the southern Piedmont of North Carolina I, too, was listening to Also Sprach Zarathustra, Elektra, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. But I was also weaned on the Stanley Brothers and Buck Owens; so when I heard the opening harmonies and heavy bombast of “Carry On Wayward Son” erupting from the FM station my dad managed, I found something musically that harmonized what had seemed distressingly disparate tastes. Livgren proved you can put these diverse elements together and make something glorious and coherent of them.

The greatness of Kansas’ music never rose higher, in my mind, than “The Pinnacle” (Masque, 1975); but majestic moments are found all over of the band’s catalog. Moreover, coupled with the music was Livgren’s deep spiritual search. As a rocker from the Plains he epitomized Jesus’ challenge to, “Seek, and you will find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” If there was one American who exhausted the religious and philosophical well of thought, it was Kerry Livgren. That search, chronicled on Kansas’ albums, concluded with a return to the faith of his fathers. Livgren wrote of his career and conversion in Seeds of Change (1980, ed. 1991), an autobiography coauthored with Kenneth Boa.

Settling the religious question did not settle Livgren’s music. As a solo artist he wrote — and, in Todd Rundgren fashion, played all the instruments — on a characteristically diverse and fascinating album, One of Several Possible Musiks (1989). Together with Kansas bassist Dave Hope (now an Anglican priest) Livgren formed AD, releasing a string of albums in the ’80s of ’90s. In 2000 he produced one of his best solo efforts, Collector’s Sedition (an album I was privileged to review for PopMatters) that again showcases the sheer breadth of his interests and abilities.

In his bio Livgren introduced the tantalizing subject of the “pre-” Kansas bands — Kansas I and II, featuring Lynn Meredith’s histrionic vocals and John Bolton’s wild, Coltrane-inspired saxophone solos. Doing the prog world an unspeakable service, Livgren re-mixed and released Early Recordings from Kansas, 1971-1973 (2002), which I would say holds up as a prog album worthy of any collection. On the strength of that effort, the aptly named Proto-Kaw became a band again, touring and recording three new albums.

We’ve barely scratched the surface here; but suffice to say that Kerry Livgren is a renaissance man: church elder, husband, father, farmer, pilot, student, promoter of others’ gifts and talents, and yes, a brilliant composer, arranger, and musician.

Happy birthday, Kerry Livgren. Thank you for a tireless witness to honesty, truth, beauty, and order over the past five and a half decades.

30 years after taking “Drastic Measures”, John Elefante revisits Kansas

Any rock group that has been around for a few decades has seen its share of line-up changes. The same is true several times over for certain prog groups, some having a near legendary reputation for players coming and going, returning and re-leaving, rinsing and repeating. Yes comes to mind, along with King Crimson, Asia, and Kansas. The latter has essentially (if not precisely) had three different incarnations in the forty years since it formed in 1973: the original/current one (1973-1981; 1985-present), the one with John Elefante replacing Steve Walsh as lead singer/keyboardist (1982-84), and the line-up with Steve Morse taking the place of Kerry Livgren as lead guitarist (1985-89). Violinist Robbie Steinhardt has come and gone several times over the years; the two stalwarts have been drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams, who have appeared on every Kansas album. (A complete breakdown is available here)

The 1980s brought challenges stylistic, cultural, and technological in nature for most prog groups (Yes, Genesis, etc.) that tasted or enjoyed significant success in the 1970s . Much is made of the influence of punk in the demise of ambitious, complex prog albums, but other factors were in play. Those included the advance of electronic instrumentation and production values that were intertwined with the arrival of New Wave Music, something of a sophisticated, artsy cousin of punk. Also notable was the rise of Album Oriented Rock (AOR) in the mid-70s, which johnelefante_neweventually narrowed the focus and homogenized the content of music-oriented radio. It is rather fascinating, in considering the groups Yes, Genesis, and Kansas, how each went through big line-up changes in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then experienced massive successes in the first part of the Eighties with songs and albums that were less complex, more commercial, and often very much in keeping with the AOR sounds of the time. Journey, the band that (arguably) best embodied the AOR “sound”—or at least approach—was originally formed in the mid-1970s as a rather “meandering jazz-rock” , prog-ish band, finally arriving on the winning formula when singer/songwriter Steve Perry joined the group in 1977. And there is no doubt that Asia was formed by four prog giants in order to produce radio-friendly music that could—and did, of course—move truckloads of units. 

Kansas, meanwhile, had its biggest hit with “Dust In the Wind” (what, you’ve heard of it?), which reached #6 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1978. Yet the song was not the typical Kansas song up to that point: it was quite short—just over three minutes long)—quite simple, and quite sparse, with just vocals, acoustic guitar, violin, and a great melody line (not to mention some overtly existential lyrics shot through with palpable angst). But, having achieved remarkable success, the band began to show the wear of constant touring and being pushed to have further commercial success. In addition, band founder and primary songwriter Livgren announced during the Monolith tour in 1980 that he had converted to Christianity after years of obvious spiritual seeking (many of the lyrics on the Monolith album were influenced by The Urantia Book). Later in 1980, Livgren released his first solo album, Seeds of Change, which featured overtly Christian lyrics. With discord growing, Walsh finally left Kansas in October 1981. The year before, Walsh had released his first solo album, Schemer-Dreamer, which featured Kansas band mates Livgren, Williams and Ehart, as well as the great Steve Morse, who would eventually become the lead guitarist of Kansas when Walsh rejoined the group in 1985 (yes, keeping track of this stuff can be challenging!).

Which brings me, finally, to John Elefante.

Continue reading “30 years after taking “Drastic Measures”, John Elefante revisits Kansas”

30 years after taking “Drastic Measures”, John Elefante revisits Kansas

Any rock group that has been around for a few decades has seen its share of line-up changes. The same is true several times over for certain prog groups, some having a near legendary reputation for players coming and going, returning and re-leaving, rinsing and repeating. Yes comes to mind, along with King Crimson, Asia, and Kansas. The latter has essentially (if not precisely) had three different incarnations in the forty years since it formed in 1973: the original/current one (1973-1981; 1985-present), the one with John Elefante replacing Steve Walsh as lead singer/keyboardist (1982-84), and the line-up with Steve Morse taking the place of Kerry Livgren as lead guitarist (1985-89). Violinist Robbie Steinhardt has come and gone several times over the years; the two stalwarts have been drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams, who have appeared on every Kansas album. (A complete breakdown is available here)

The 1980s brought challenges stylistic, cultural, and technological in nature for most prog groups (Yes, Genesis, etc.) that tasted or enjoyed significant success in the 1970s . Much is made of the influence of punk in the demise of ambitious, complex prog albums, but other factors were in play. Those included the advance of electronic instrumentation and production values that were intertwined with the arrival of New Wave Music, something of a sophisticated, artsy cousin of punk. Also notable was the rise of Album Oriented Rock (AOR) in the mid-70s, which johnelefante_neweventually narrowed the focus and homogenized the content of music-oriented radio. It is rather fascinating, in considering the groups Yes, Genesis, and Kansas, how each went through big line-up changes in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then experienced massive successes in the first part of the Eighties with songs and albums that were less complex, more commercial, and often very much in keeping with the AOR sounds of the time. Journey, the band that (arguably) best embodied the AOR “sound”—or at least approach—was originally formed in the mid-1970s as a rather “meandering jazz-rock” , prog-ish band, finally arriving on the winning formula when singer/songwriter Steve Perry joined the group in 1977. And there is no doubt that Asia was formed by four prog giants in order to produce radio-friendly music that could—and did, of course—move truckloads of units. 

Kansas, meanwhile, had its biggest hit with “Dust In the Wind” (what, you’ve heard of it?), which reached #6 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1978. Yet the song was not the typical Kansas song up to that point: it was quite short—just over three minutes long)—quite simple, and quite sparse, with just vocals, acoustic guitar, violin, and a great melody line (not to mention some overtly existential lyrics shot through with palpable angst). But, having achieved remarkable success, the band began to show the wear of constant touring and being pushed to have further commercial success. In addition, band founder and primary songwriter Livgren announced during the Monolith tour in 1980 that he had converted to Christianity after years of obvious spiritual seeking (many of the lyrics on the Monolith album were influenced by The Urantia Book). Later in 1980, Livgren released his first solo album, Seeds of Change, which featured overtly Christian lyrics. With discord growing, Walsh finally left Kansas in October 1981. The year before, Walsh had released his first solo album, Schemer-Dreamer, which featured Kansas band mates Livgren, Williams and Ehart, as well as the great Steve Morse, who would eventually become the lead guitarist of Kansas when Walsh rejoined the group in 1985 (yes, keeping track of this stuff can be challenging!).

Which brings me, finally, to John Elefante.

Back in late 1980, he was a young 22-year-old just getting started, along with his brother Dino (guitar), in the music business. He was also a recent convert to Evangelical Christianity and a huge fan of both Kansas, Yes, Gentle Giant, and other prog groups. In this 1992 interview, he explained how he came to be the lead singer of Kansas: he knew someone who knew someone who knew…and the rest was history. “I remember, the first thing the band wanted to do was to go over some of their early material,” he said, “They’d been off the road for a few months at that time, and I actually knew some of the songs better than they did!” The other two top candidates for the job were reportedly Warren Ham and Michael Gleason, both of whom would eventually form the group A.D. with Livgren in 1983. Kansas hit the road for one of the highest grossing tours of 1981 and then released Vinyl Confessions, which included the hit song, “Play the Game Tonight” (#17 on Billboard) and three songs penned by the Elefante brothers and one (“Play On”) co-written by Livgren and John Elefante. 

What is notable about Vinyl Confessions is the obvious move in the AOR direction; the only song that I would generally describe as “prog-gish” is the final cut, “Crossfire”, penned by Livgren. AllMusic.com is in the ball park in writing that “it was getting hard to distinguish Kansas from Foreigner and Journey.” The big difference was that while Journey and Foreigner specialized in love songs, the new Kansas material was lyrically much more in the vein of early ’80s CCM (Contemporary Christian Music). Songs such as “Borderline”, which urged listeners to make a choice between being “hot and cold”, obviously referred to the church of Laodicea, chastised in the Book of Revelation for being “lukewarm, neither hot nor cold” (Rev 3:15). The next album, Drastic Measures, which features the worst Kansas album cover of all time. was Elefante’s second and last with Kansas, and it was, to put it nicely, a mixed affair. Livgren was already moving on to A.D., and at times it is hard to believe it was produced by the same band that had, just a few years before, put out Leftoverture (1976)and Point of Know Return (1977). As Elefante would bluntly admit ten years later: “I didn’t like ‘Drastic Measures,’ and we even said to the band, ‘Guys, this is almost an Elefante Brothers album. This isn’t what Kansas is all about.’” Steinhardt had left the band at the end of 1982 and the band was now an overly AOR group, with just one song, “Mainstream”, breaking the six minute mark—and it was a Livgren-penned tune that openly skewered the direction of both the music world and his band:

It’s so predictable and everybody judges by the numbers that you’re selling,
Just crank ’em out on the assembly line and chart ’em higher (higher, higher),
Just keep it simple boys it’s gonna be alright, as long as you’re inside the Mainstream,
are we moving too far away?
Is it worth it if it doesn’t pay?

That said, the album does demonstrate that the young Elefante, in addition to being a fine vocalist, could write a great hook and a good tune. The hit, “Fight Fire with Fire” (#3 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart) is a good example, but personal favorites include “Andi”, which is a precursor of sorts to songs such as Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian”, with its imploring, ruminating lyrics about a young girl trying to find her way in life (“And you’re not just anyone; don’t be ashamed”), and “Don’t Ever Take Your Love Away”, which ambiguously works as either a love song or a modern psalm: “‘Cause nothing means a thing unless you’re here/To live without your love’s my only fear/I just want to let you know/I can’t make it on my own.”

After Kansas broke up in 1984, John Elefante embarked on a prolific and award-winning career (multiple Grammy and Dove awards) in CCM as a producer, songwriter, and bandleader (Mastedon). Although he received offers that promised success in the broader music world (such as an invite to be lead singer of Toto in the late 1980s), Elefante was committed to working with Christian artists, including Guardian, Petra, Bride, and numerous others and, later, producing some of his own albums. During the 1990s, he released three solo albums, none of which I’ve listened to. In fact, I’ve not paid much attention to Elefante’s work for many years until he released his new solo album, On My Way to the Sun, his first in fourteen years, which came out on May 7th. I saw the album on amazon.com, noticed that Kansas members Williams and David Ragsdale (violin) performed on the 11-minute-long opening cut, “This Is How the Story Goes”, and I had a listen. My immediate impression was, “This is Kansas, circa 1978!” That was not entirely accurate, but similarities are obvious: the lush harmonies, the violin-driven opening, the very Kansas-esque guitar licks from Williams. In truth, the song is a near perfect marriage of mid-1970s and early 1980s Kansas, but with superior production and some frankly evangelistic lyrics:

And this is how the story goes:
You must believe it all, my friend,
from the beginning to the end.
Everyone lives forever, we just have to choose where,
Because the virgin had a son,
and the stone was rolled away,
so how can we can be terminal,
because He lives today.

Granted, those sort of direct lyrics aren’t going to attract many new listeners (I do like the line about being “terminal”; it reminds me somehow of Part IV if Eliot’s “East Coker”). But, while I’m not a big fan of overtly evangelistic rock tunes, I think “This Is How the Story Goes” is a really fine bit of prog-rock. It is perfectly produced and performed, has a killer hook, develops wonderfully, and is both rocking and thoughtful. Another plus, and a pleasant surprise, is just how great Elefante sounds. He has always been a fine singer, and he displays not only range, but an admirable combination of confidence and reserve, never over-singing or being indulgent; there isn’t an unnecessary note on the album.

The other nine songs are certainly in the AOR/”classic rock” vein, but with lots of nice twists and details. “Where Have the Old Times Gone” has some obvious tips of the hat to Led Zeppelin and Foreigner, but also features violin work that is directly from the Kansas playbook. The Foreigner influence is front and center on the title track while “All I Have to Do” could have fit nicely on Vinyl Confessions, albeit with an updated sound. “The Awakening” begins with a huge, warm wash of harmonized vocals that then leads into lush guitar-driven verse and chorus that reminds me of some of Livgren’s work with A.D. “Half the Way Home” featured more lush harmonies, over the top of a 38-Special-like guitar riff; the lead vocal, oddly enough, sounds like Doug (Dug) Pinnick of King’s X in a few spots, and there is a huge sing-a-long chorus (did I mention the album has big hooks?). “We All Fall Shorts” is a largely acoustic number that starts with a Beatles/Phil Keaggy vibe before moving into a very Yes-ish chorus. “Don’t Hide Away” returns to the Foreigner influenced sound, but with a very Styx-like chorus, along with a short section of rap (yes, that’s right). “This Time” offers a somewhat abrupt shift in tone and lyrics, a moody, minor-keyed (and quite emotional) song about a pregnant girl who decides, at the last moment, to keep her baby rather than have an abortion. The closing track, “Confess”, is, frankly, a praise-and-worship tune, but a very well done one at that: “Fall down on your knees/Praise Him/And fall to your knees/And confess with your lips/that Jesus is Lord.” 

While the influences are obvious, there’s never a sense that Elefante is trying to write, say, a “Foreigner” or “Kansas” tune. Rather, this is a very cohesive-sounding album that works because Elefante is an exceptional musician, songwriter, and producer who seamlessly marries a myriad of loves and influences without losing his way or his focus. He knows prog-rock and classic rock better than most, and he does a fine, even exceptional, job of crafting songs that draw on those sources. Anyone who enjoyed the Elefante-fronted Kansas, or likes AOR/classic rock with lyrics that are unapologetically Christian will enjoy this well-crafted album. Having said that, here is the opening cut:

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