Proto-Kaw- Before Became After (Inside Out)
review by Jim Clark

Track Listing

1. Alt. More Worlds Than Known
2. Words Of Honor
3. Leaven
4. Axolotl
5. Quantum Leapfrog
6. Greenburg, Glickstein, Charles, David, Smith And Jones
7. Gloriana
8. Occasion Of Your Honest Dreaming
9. Heavenly Man
10. Theophany



It took three decades, but the members of Proto-Kaw finally got around to releasing their debut album.

Thirty years ago, the second formation of Kansas broke up. Guitarist Kerry Livgren joined White Clover, which soon reclaimed the name Kansas and went on to stardom during the mid-70's with the hits "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Dust in the Wind." Meanwhile, his former Kansas II bandmates slid into musical obscurity and moved on to take jobs in the real world.

Years passed and it seemed like that was the end of the musical story for this left behind lineup. But in 2002, Livgren unearthed Early Recordings From Kansas 1971-73, a collection of demos and live tracks recorded by that second incarnation of the band. When deciding what to name the project, Livgren chose Proto-Kaw, which means "before Kansas" in Native American. After this disc gained some success, Livgren decided to hook up again with his old bandmates and in the spring of 2003, they began recording the aptly-titled Before Became After . Joining Livgren in the studio from that Kansas II lineup were vocalist Lynn Meredith, keyboardist Dan Wright, saxophonist John Bolton and drummer Brad Schulz. Newcomer Craig Kew joins in on bass while original bassist Rod Mikinski turns up on one track. 

Before Became After features nine original songs by Livgren along with a cover of Cryan' Shames "Greenburg, Glickstein, Charles, David, Smith and Jones." The disc does sound similar to Kansas, but the earlier, progressive Kansas that created albums like Song For America . The two best examples of this are "Alt. More Worlds Than Known" and "Theophany," both of which sound, structure-wise, much like old time Kansas as the instrumentalists get a good share of the spotlight as does Meredith, who sounds quite a bit like his successor in Kansas, Steve Walsh. Then there are somewhat shorter tracks like "Words of Honor" and "Axolotl" that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the more radio-friendly of Kansas albums, Leftoverture and Point of Know Return .       

But these noted similarities are in no ways meant in a negative way. As it was Livgren who wrote most of Kansas' well known 70's material, it's only natural that Proto-Kaw would have a Kansas sound to it. And both Kansas and Proto-Kaw feature Livgren's stellar guitar and piano playing. On Before Became After , he cuts loose with a number of impressive guitar solos, some quite heavy. He even plays the drums on the superb "Leaven," a track that features quite an unusual rhythm to it, not to mention some beautiful piano playing from Livgren. Overall, a top notch performance from this highly skilled yet sadly underrated guitarist and composer.

As for the other members of Proto-Kaw, I can't help but wonder, "How come none of the other guys in the band went on to musical success?" Bolton shows that he's quite talented on both saxophone and flute and his playing is reminiscent of Mel Collins' work in the early 70's version of King Crimson. Wright, meanwhile, adds some heavy Hammond organ playing, Schulz alternates seamlessly on the drums between harder and quieter passages and Meredith displays a fine voice throughout. It's unfortunate that these guys never got their break back in the day. So that makes it all the more rewarding that they're finally getting their chance now. And if Before Became After is any indication of what lies ahead for this band, they're definitely making the most of it.

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