Amidst all the accusations of going commercial with their breakout album Leftoverture, the fourth album by the heartland prog rockers collectively known as Kansas hardly panders to the hit parade. It is full of heavy-handed time signatures, brimming over with pompous imagery and grandeur. Robby Steinhardt's brilliant interludes on the violin often carry the passages while the rest of band gainfully follow along. Add in the mastery of guitarist/songwriter Kerry Livgren and the dynamic vocals of keyboardist Steve Walsh, and the Kansas assault is virtually unstoppable. Leftoverture has often been hung with a sign pointing to sell-out. And while it's easy to pass judgment on the album's merits by its hits — not by any stretch of the imagination, your garden variety "hit singles" -- there are some broad strokes that rival the best of what Yes, ELP, Genesis, and other English progressive rock groups had to offer.
With three albums under their belt, the members of Kansas — Livgren, Steinhardt, Walsh, bassist Dave Hope, drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Richard Williams -- were in dire need of some well-earned recognition. Walsh was suffering from writer's block, so Livgren stepped in and handled the majority of the songwriting. In rapid succession, the record was molded into a cohesive package. A studio upgrade enabled the band to retool their sound with a more dynamic range. "Carry On Wayward Son," the group's first top 20 single, opens the record. The tune's uneven rhythm amidst a wash of guitars and keyboards is lifted by razor-sharp harmonies. Vocalist Steve Walsh is pitch perfect as he peels off each memorable line: "Masquerading as a man with a reason / My charade is the event of the season..." In the wake of its multiplatinum success, there's a lot more to Leftoverture than just wayward sons. "The Wall," "What's On My Mind" and "Miracles Out of Nowhere" all logged time on the FM dial. The Kansas sound had finally found its niche.
To longtime fans, the album's least-known songs reaffirm the group's progressive leanings. "Question Of My Childhood" starts off like a Camel outtake before settling into a shifting rocker with Walsh handling the organ/piano/vocal duties and Steinhardt countering the melody. "Cheyenne Anthem" is a dramatic hue, Steinhardt and Walsh exchange verses before the song descends on an instrumental passage that meticulously spotlights the group's tight interaction. "Magnum Opus" is a comforting, yet contorted epic broken down into six subordinates looped whimsically together by a common theme. What that theme is, is anyone's guess. In celebration of its 25th year, Leftoverture was re-issued with two bonus tracks — "live" versions of "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Cheyenne Anthem." e Kansas would go on to even greater heights with "Point Of Know Return" and "Dust In The Wind," but Leftoverture effectively captures a balance of pop rock sensibility and a taste for adventure via more instrumentally challenging forays — always a lethal combination in the right hands.
~ Shawn Perry