KANSAS - Sail On: The 30th Anniversary Collection (2004)
Sony's Sail On: The 30th Anniversary Collection is certainly the most lovingly crafted of the many Kansas retrospectives. Featuring 27 album cuts that range from classic FM hits like "Dust in the Wind" and "Point of No Return" to fan favorites such as "Song for America," a 35-page booklet that includes extensive liner notes and career-spanning photos, and a 16-track DVD that collects numerous television appearances, videos, and live recordings, Sail On seems to be the definitive tome of the Midwest art rock band's very existence. The album tracks are dished out in a linear fashion, making Bret Adams' interviews with the rotating cast of bandmembers all the more resonant, and the much needed remastering the band's first two albums arrived in this form a month before crackles with the kind of indulgent glee that can only come from the combination of crispy Hammond B-3 riffing over crafty mid-'70s time signatures. There's not much new here for fans who bought 1994's Box Set besides the additional DVD and the inclusion of five tracks from albums released on post-Epic/Legacy labels MCA, Intersound, River North, Diablo, Compendia Music, and Magna Carta, but for fans who have yet to upgrade their Columbia House copy of The Best of Kansas with its inevitable scratches and fingerprints from late-night/post-bar fumbling Sail On may open up a whole new world of appreciation for this tenacious group of prog-pop gentlemen.
Disc One: Though they wouldn't experience an incredible mainstream breakthrough until years later, Kansas actually began in 1974 with vocalist/keyboardist Steve Walsh, vocalist/violinist Robby Steinhardt, guitarist/keyboardist Kerry Livgren, guitarist Richard Williams, bassist Dave Hope and drummer Phil Ehart. In that original existence, the band had a very unique progressive rock influenced sound that- as unveiled throughout the first half of this installment- may have been musically intricate and astute, but lacked radio accessibility and could be considered pretentious. Epic pieces like "Journey From Mariabronn," "Song For America" and "Lamplight Symphony" all stretch beyond the eight minute mark and are loaded with a series of complicated solos, yet they lack the hook-laden classic rock sensibilities they'd soon discover. After patiently trudging through selections from the group's self-titled debut, 1975's Song For America and the subsequent Masque, listeners will be greeted with the much easier to digest Leftoverture moments. This album would become the group's cornerstone, spawning the mega single "Carry On Wayward Son" (this volume's primary highlight) and fan favorites like "What's On My Mind" and "Miracles Out of Nowhere."
Disc Two: Part two in the package begins with multiple cuts from 1977's commercially strident follow-up Point of No Return, culling together the title track, power ballad "Dust In the Wind" and the memorable "Lightning's Hand." However (as the text in the accompanying book points out) the band faced personal problems and drug abuse, which put the creative juices on hold for a little bit. With those glitches, a live record was in order, traced in this collection with "Paradox" (from the subsequent Two For the Show). Tracks from Monolith and Audio Visions were also scattered attempts at crossing over into pop realms, though a rebound at radio becomes apparent with Vinyl Confessions excerpts. The 1982 album saw the departure of Walsh, who was promptly replaced by John Elefante, the melodic basis behind smashes like "Play That Game Tonight" and "Fight Fire With Fire" (off 1983's Drastic Measures). Though Walsh returned come 1986, the group almost nestled into an adult contemporary safety net ("All I Wanted") while the following decade of material was virtually ignored outside of die-hards.
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