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(49 min, Muse-Wrapped)
TRACK LIST: 1. Rise 5:15 2. Shadowman 6:45 3. Davey & the Stone That Rolled Away 5:54 4. Keep on Knocking 5:53 5. Pages of Old 4:55 6. Hell is Full of Heroes 6:04 7. After 9:58 8. The River 4:13 LINEUP: Steve Walsh - keyboards; vocals Joel Kosche - guitars & bass Joe Franco - drums With: Michael Romeo - giga symphony Matt Still - percussion (5) David Ragsdale - violin (7)
Prolusion. Kansas's frontman and one of the primary masterminds behind the band, Steve WALSH is back on the road again, presenting his third solo album "Shadowman" this time around. By an irony of fate, I haven't heard any of his previous solo releases, "Schemer Dreamer" (1980) and "Glossolalia" (2000). Instead, I have a couple of CDs by some of Steve's side projects, Streets and Khymera, but my opinion on these is not to be made public, due to my deep respect to the maestro. If you are interested to know my rating on each of the Kansas studio output, please click here.
Analysis. "Shadowman" is one of those rare solo outings whose appearance seems designed to shake the reasonably widespread opinion that band efforts are normally better than solo albums. Quite frankly, I would not have been very surprised if this CD had featured some of the other Kansas members and had been released under the Kansas moniker, because it has many trademarks of the Kansas' sound, while being free of any cliches and commercial features on the one hand, and abundant in distinctly innovative decisions on the other, all of which is like honey to my soul. With the attraction of a certain dose of imagination, I think "Shadowman" can be viewed as the further development of the style laid on Kansas' "Freaks of Nature", - towards a heavier and a more intricate sound, with the considerable denial of Art-Rock keyboard patterns in favor of those reminiscent of Classical music (please take note: this is an important remark). But, well, this is Steve Walsh, and I mentally take off my hat to the maestro for keeping the flame of true, uncompromising Prog living brightly. Besides, while Kansas' style is, overall, a blend of symphonic Art-Rock and Hard Rock, "Shadowman" would be Prog-Metal in the place of the second component. I see I've just designated the primary style of the recording, so it's the right time to name its bearers among the album's eight tracks. These are the title track, Davey & the Stone That Rolled Away, Keep on Knocking, Hell is Full of Heroes and After. There are lush, ambitious, and grandiose string arrangements on each, interlaced with guitar riffs, which accentuate the driving nature of the songs as highly as those developing out of the context of massive maneuvers diversify it. From the standpoint of a fan of Kansas, the first four mentioned songs sound both familiar and extremely new at the same time, while the 10-minute semi-epic, After, doesn't suit any established scheme, and not only because it reveals light flavors of oriental music. It would be pointless to try to count the number of different thematic movements that the composition is made up of, and the listener has only to listen to their numerous and, what's central, unexpected transformations. Perhaps I should have begun describing the songs starting with the first one, but that's how things turned out to be. Well, Rise is another unexpected piece of music, having almost nothing in common with Kansas, just as After, though the music is of another story altogether. There are some elements of Art-Rock, but for the most part, this is a really harsh stuff, closer to Techno Metal, some of the riff textures referring to the genre's more extreme manifestations. It's also interesting to take Steve's singing out of the context of the general picture. The diversity of his vocals, which, particularly at the lowest timbres of his voice (delivered with a raw energy), are absolutely unrecognizable at times, is something that amazes me as much as the music does. Steve feels with his whole being how to complement his new musical ideas with suitable vocal parts. One of the shorter songs, Pages of Old, is built around passages of acoustic guitar, piano and string synthesizer. Its pretty complicated nature and the ingenious acoustic guitar solos, interwoven with basic fabrics, make it much bigger than a traditional Art-Rock ballad, as is The River, which, though, is right on its place, a kind of the happy ending for this album, so full of dramatics.
Conclusion. I've just given the album one more subsidiary listen, and I rejoice, having mentally raised my hands, while a smile is appearing upon my face on its own. Whether you're a fan of Kansas or not, you will be overwhelmed with this album, unless you friend exclusively with accessible melodic Prog or its pseudo forms: Ambient, New Age and electronic music. Top-20-2005
VM: November 19, 2005
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