Review Summary: The Kansas guitarist puts together a class A supporting crew and pours out his saved soul on his first solo album.
Though Kansas never reached the brilliance of their British prog rock predecessors…or Rush their Northern contemporaries…they were the preeminent progressive rock band representing the spirit of the American Midwest. For what it's worth, "Carry on Wayward Son" and "Dust in the Wind" were huge hits in the mid 70s at the peak of AOR radio, yet the accompanying albums Leftoverture and Point of Know Return were still very much the same progressive rock that they had been playing since 1974…albeit more melodic and accessible than most.
Their next album, Monolith, couldn't have been more appropriately titled. It was a commercial disappointment, and like all progressive rock in the year 1979, it was treated as an overblown relic of the past. Lead guitarist and songwriter Kerry Livgren was unfazed however, and decided to continue his progressive rock excursions on his very own solo album aptly titled Seeds of Change.
At first one might not comprehend the title. After all, the music on display is still very much the same progressive rock Livgren wrote for Kansas. One could draw a comparison to Steve Hackett's Voyage of the Acolyte, as Seeds of Change could be considered the lost Kansas album. Though possibly still too syrupy for fans of darker prog like King Crimson or Pink Floyd, it's still no abomination to prog like Asia. Livgren and his crew perform as well as ever thanks in large to the renowned drumming of Jethro Tull's Barrimore Barlow, and the songs offer enough variation to keep things interesting throughout. It was as if punk and new wave had no net effect on Livgren's mind. However, the name Seeds of Change refers less to Livgren's musical direction as it does to Livgren's soul.
Livgren opens Seeds of Change with the declaration "Just One Way," which wastes no time in letting you know that this wayward son has finally found peace now he is done.
There is just one way
From the dark into the light
There's one way home
Though tasty basslines and guitar solos define this song, make no mistake; Seeds of Change has Livgren's faith in God written all over it. Maybe this wasn't so unexpected, since Livgren had hinted at soul searching for quite a few Kansas albums. Still, few would have guessed who he brought along for the ride. Religious lyrics were nothing new to Jethro Tull's drummer Barlow, but whereas Ian Anderson dealt two scathing blows to organized religion for every one praise of God, Livgren's lyrics were sold out to his newfound savior. But along with the usual Kansas suspects like longtime Kansas singer Steve Walsh, Livgren brought in one of the hottest new singers in heavy rock…Ronnie James Dio.
Soon after accepting the position as Black Sabbath's new singer, Dio agreed to sing two songs for his good friend Livgren. Of the two songs, "Mask of the Great Deceiver" is the more fitting vehicle of Dio's signature voice. The theme of the evil one was nothing new to the former Rainbow front man, and this tune brings a dark, heavy prog atmosphere that fits well. However, "To Live for the King" shines as the most unlikely "rainbow in the dark" of Dio's career. Though a self-described atheist, Dio sings this moody track about living for Jesus with head-turning conviction, which does him great credit as a versatile performer. If nothing else, Seeds of Change is worth checking out merely to hear Dio sing these two great songs.
Livgren throws in a couple musical curveballs as well. "Whiskey Seed" starts off with some bluesy guitar and harmonica, and "Down to the Core" is heavy prog with a guest singer sounding similar to Captain Beefheart. The most symphonic track is saved for last. "Ground Zero" is a hopeful prog epic about the earth's final days and the renewing of creation. Female Choirs, horns, violins and piano lift this song up to the heavens. Epic" Yes. Proggy" Yes. Cheesey" Most definitely. Kerry Livgren lets out a great Gilmour-like solo which is just too tasty to pass up, and it ends with a crash of percussion, horns, and all things bombastic.
In short, while Seeds of Change may be misleading to those seeking a fresh new sound from the Kansas lead man, Kerry Livgren did give us a diamond in the rough that is sure to please fans of Kansas as well as those interested in completing their posthumous Ronnie James Dio collection.