Vinyl Confessions: The “Power” Of Kansas

Ira Kantor Photo for column[E]lmore has been my main journalistic outlet for music reviews and musings for the past ten years. I couldn’t have asked for a better haven to house my work. In this time I’ve filled the pages of the publication and website with hundreds of album reviews, and had the chance to interview some of rock’s most beloved icons – Boz Scaggs, John Oates and Peter Frampton included.

More recently, I’ve been transitioning into writing more column-style pieces for Elmore. Perhaps you’ve read my thoughts of why Chicago deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as well as my farewell tributes to luminaries like Bobby Womack, David Bowie, the Eagles’ Glenn Frey and Yes’ Chris Squire.

Music history has helped define my life since my teenage years, and at Elmore I’ve been honored to have the title of “music encyclopedia” bestowed upon me. Now, I am thrilled to be able to spread my brand of rock and roll/jazz gospel to you on a regular basis.

Welcome to Vinyl Confessions, a column that aspires to give readers a little music history, a little music analysis and get you digging into the vaults to dust off some potential classics you may have forgotten about.

Vinyl Confessions also happens to be the name of the eighth studio album of Midwest classic rock/progressive powerhouse Kansas. So, I figure, why not kick things right off with some insights about an anniversary worth remembering in the band’s varied discography.


Kansas by Marti Griffin
Kansas by Marti Griffin


In 1986, lead singer Steve Walsh (now officially retired from the group) was back in the fold with drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams after the band previously called it quits. Now on a new label, Kansas re-established a hard-hitting presence with their 10th – and comeback – studio album, Power. Released right at the point where hair metal and power pop were starting to dominate the charts worldwide, the album ultimately wouldn’t sell much compared to previous smashes. However, it solidified its staying power thanks to the record’s (final) Top 20 hit from the group, “All I Wanted.”

“All I Wanted” was, and is, a true power (no pun intended) ballad before the term started to be bandied about in public consciousness. Clocking in at over three minutes and 20 seconds, Walsh’s raw emotionality takes hold, and the same voice that helped “Carry On Wayward Son,” “Dust in the Wind” and “People of the Southwind” conquer the airwaves comes across as dynamic as ever.

It’s irrelevant that Walsh had been out of the fold for more than five years. On the track, he has renewed vigor in his tenor. As the guitars and percussion swell around him and become crunchier on Power, he keeps up and soars to similar volumes (just give a listen to “Three Pretenders” for proof).

Even the die-hard Kansas fans will likely argue that Power isn’t one of the band’s best. That honor likely goes to Leftoverture, which, coincidentally, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. But while Power may be largely void of the strings and lengthy tunes that made Kansas hit-makers in the 1970s, the album still packs a punch. Take “Secret Service.” If put in the mouth of Rob Halford, it would make for a terrific Judas Priest song. “Musicatto” and “Tomb 19” both carry traces of the mystique Kansas laid on vinyl in their Song for America period. “Can’t Cry Anymore” is a trifle hokey, but then again the band never cared about critical respect – hence their born again Christianity phase (courtesy of co-founder Kerry Livgren) at the turn of the decade.

Classic rock radio continues to promote “Carry On Wayward Son” as the defining track of Kansas’ entire career. I implore you, take 40 minutes out of your day and make Power your “point of know return.”

-Ira Kantor

Got something to say?