It’s now the third month of the Coronavirus shutdown. In efforts to conquer the virus and to stop its devastation of both our economy and, more so, of the peoples of the world, certain politicians, who should know better before talking, have suggested some strange solutions, bleach anyone, for instance!
There is some light at the end of this dark tunnel, however and, for me, this has been the fine music that has made each day a little better. So it was great news to hear that American legends Kansas had a new album nearing completion for release at the end of June 2020. That album is called ‘The Absence of Presence’ and it is certainly very welcome in these strange times.
Everyone should have a little Kansas in their collection (and their lives) as their impressive history and collection of fine progressive rock deserves a place in every home. Well, I am glad to report that the album does not disappoint, in fact it bristles with real vigour and presence. This is the second record the band have released in three years and is a worthy follow up to ‘The Prelude Implicit’, which was the first album with new vocalist Ronnie Platts (who has replaced Steve Walsh after the latter’s 41 year tenure with the band). We are also introduced to Tom Breslin (formerly of Yes and Camel) who joins on keyboards.
The album begins with title track The Absence of Presence which opens with a few of Tom Breslin’s piano notes before a violin sweep from David Ragsdale plays a main theme before returning to a gentle piano backed melody as Ronnie Platts’ vocal is introduced. The song appears to be speaking about one who has left but whose presence is still very much felt, maybe in memories but is still tangibly missed.
The song is somewhat of an epic song from Kansas with a running time of 8 Minutes and 22 seconds and that time is wisely used to show the not inconsiderable talents of the current band with some lush symphonic sounds and some hard edged guitars and drums and that graceful violin. This is an extraordinarily strong and dynamic opener, you certainly know it’s Kansas as there are none that sound like they do and that makes a new album a welcome event indeed.
Throwing Mountains follows which has an awesome video (you can watch it at the end of the review) that you really need to see as it captures the excitement of a live Kansas performance wonderfully.
The third single from the album is next, called Jets Overhead. This track opens with some graceful piano before a hard guitar riff and violin lines are introduced, all sounding very strong and appealing. The song has some fabulous drum patters from Phil Ehart and a soaring violin part at the 2:58 point that really adds to the power. It shows Kansas are not prepared to simply rehash old ideas but carry on striving to bring us more worthy music as they head towards their 50th anniversary.
The brief track Propulsion 1 swiftly follows, an instrumental song propelled by some sturdy drumming and some fine keyboards. This segues nicely into the rather excellent Memories Down The Line which is the second single from the album again with another powerfully emotive video.
I know Kerry Livgren is no longer involved with the band yet, somehow, his presence still remains in these emotionally formed songs that could so easily have flowed from his hands. That is one of the great strengths about Kansas, the emotional connection between the words and the music and in this song they certainly have caught that connection beautifully and it is one of the standouts on this sublime album.
Circus of Illusion is next, and this features a more muscular variant of the band firing on all cylinders with some strong surging basslines from Billy Greer anchoring the song to its rhythm section and letting it fly loose.
This is followed by Animals On The Roof, which has another fine Platts’ vocal and yet more strong propulsive drums sat among some fiery guitarwork from Richard Williams and Zak Rivki. This mid paced rocker plays to all of the strengths of the current band and is another excellent excursion for all with a great violin part at the 2:42 point before reverting back to the vocal again. There is top-class stuff on offer here, hopefully we will be able to see these guys in London next year and, if so, you can definitely count me in for that!
The penultimate track is Never which again opens with Tom Breslin’s fantastic piano before a violin line from Ragsdale begins. This is a far more gentle and softer offering than what has gone before but that gives room for the vocals to soar across the song, meaning you can really feel the warmth in this lovely song.
The album closes with The Song The River Sang which gives the whole band a window to show us their wares brilliantly and, with a fine vocal from Ronnie Platts to support everyone’s efforts superbly, this track works as a fine conclusion to what is an album of classy songs, expert musicianship, strong melodies and fine performances. As Geoff Barton of Sounds said in 1977, “Pomp Rock Lives Run For The Hills…”, he was right then and he’s still right now, I urge you all to listen to this masterful album for yourselves.
There is a common theme to many of these songs of time passing and the change that brings to us all, maybe as we are all getting older Kansas are beginning to both realise and appreciate the value of the time that we have available to us. However, whatever the thinking behind these songs, they certainly never fail to impress. The band have delivered an album that is a wonderful representation of modern day Kansas and I, for one, am very glad of that. Having been a fan for over 40 years, I am glad to still have the band in existence.
Released 26th June 2020
Buy ‘The Absence of Presence’ from Burning Shed here: