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Proto-Kaw - 'Forth' Hot

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Written by Central Electronic Brain     December 12, 2011    
 
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A most impressive release.

To cut a long story short, the majority of Proto-Kaw once worked together in the early 70’s under the band name Kansas, before their main songwriter Kerry Livgren teamed up with a certain Steve Walsh to bring together a new line up that would hit the big time under the same moniker. After their early recordings were released on CD, Proto-Kaw reformed some thirty years after they first split, recording two albums of new music in the shape of ‘Before Became After’ and ‘The Wait Of Glory’. A start was made on a fourth album, but half way through recording an announcement was made that the band had ended. Shortly after that time Kerry had a stroke (from which he has now thankfully recovered), and when the band members got together to catch up, one thing led to another and for the second time in their history Proto-Kaw decided to complete what they had begun.

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The majority of what is presented here was recorded before the split, but some of the material dates from much further back in time, with ‘On The Air’ and ‘Greek Structure Sunbeam’ coming from the band’s early years together, while ‘Utopian Dream’ originally appears Kerry’s ‘Odyssey Into The Mind’s Eye’ solo album. As a collection of songs ‘Forth’ is a far mellower and, dare I say, slightly less-focused set that take a longer investment of time from which to truly get the best. The music and musicianship is undoubtedly still of the highest calibre, however those who got as much out of ‘Before...’ and ‘The Wait...’ as I did, will take a little time to adjust. The vibe here is almost universally laid back, with the songs happy to shimmy along, although the tight arrangements and strong production ensures that things never become too staid. Of the more overtly prog tracks on the album, ‘Daylight’ with its mighty bass line and angular break-downs is a particularly enticing opening to the album, while ‘On The Air (Again)’ struts with intent in a more complex John Payne-era Asia style. The more restrained moments, of which there are many, are equally effective, if harder to unlock, with the flute infused ‘Cold And Clear’ and immaculately arranged ‘Utopian Dream’ - where Kerry’s guitar hits home with pin point accuracy - being highlights. However there are also a couple of less convincing moments in the shape of ‘Things We Are Breaking’, which almost has a Broadway musical feel to it and, while it is well executed, the Steely Dan, West-Coastish ‘Sleeping Giant’ also feels a little out of place.

What does make ‘Forth’ stand out is the stunning craftsmanship on display and the marvellous vocal display from Lynn Meredith, who is often joined by backing singer (and guitarist and percussionist) Jake Livgren to stunning effect. So, the fourth effort from Proto-Kaw may not be exactly what I was expecting, but give it time to mature in your head and it is still a most impressive release.

Steven Reid

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