In 1976, a band from Topeka captured my attention by issuing a fourth album with songs possessing a potent mix of classic and progressive rock. “Leftoverture” was the release that sparked the rise of Kansas and established the Midwestern band as one of the prominent rock acts of the late 1970s.
Fueled by the standout track “Carry On Wayward Son,” I quickly made “Leftoverture” part of my routine as I listened to my vinyl version while preparing for yet another monotonous day of middle school. To this day, I can still recite every word to every song as I do my best frontman impersonation driving to work.
Forty-four years later, the dynamic band offers up new arrangements that carry on the vintage Kansas trademark sound with “The Absence of Presence.”
Over the years, the band has experienced several lineup changes. The most significant transformation occurred when charismatic lead singer Steve Walsh retired in 2014 and was replaced with former Shooting Star vocalist Ronnie Platt.
With drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams the only remaining original members left from the band’s 1974 self-titled release, I was cautiously optimistic about the new offering.
Any concern was immediately erased after taking in the title track. With a synthesizer fury occasionally found on early Deep Purple numbers, this set opener dominantly establishes the tone for the rest of the arrangements that follow as part of an engaging blending of magnificent musicianship and wondrous writing.
Faithful fans will excitedly reach for the volume knob as “Throwing Mountains” manically thunders along with its inspiring metal feel, vigorously enhanced by David Ragsdale’s inspired violin playing.
“Propulsion 1” is an explosive instrumental of progressive rock that showcases Ehart’s superb drumming skills and “Circus of Illusion” radiates a nostalgic ELP vibe with its soaring theatrical production.
“Take my hand/Spell it out in terms/That mere mortals understand/Before you fly away,” declares Platt on “Jets Overhead.” Highlighted by a smokin’ violin solo delivered by Ragsdale that would comfortably fit on 1977’s “Point of Know Return,” this complex number details a futuristic relationship between a human and an alien spy that leads to cosmic heartbreak.
“The Song the River Sang” serves as an elegant orchestration that brings the set to a satisfying close with keyboardist Tom Brislin declaring, “I launch a final flare/To catch the eye of those who care.”
The commanding presence of Kansas this time around will certainly have fans reliving the band’s glory days with a renewed vigor.
Clint Rhodes is the Herald-Standard music reviewer. He can be reached at email@example.com.