Exposé print issues (1993-2011)
Robby Steinhardt — Not in Kansas Anymore
((Not on label) no#, 2021, CD / DL)
by Jon Davis, Published 2022-01-13
Prior to his death in July of 2021, Robby Steinhardt was working on his first solo album after gaining fame as a member of Kansas in the 70s. Cheekily titled Not in Kansas Anymore, the album finally appeared months after his passing. His violin and vocals are joined by an impressive array of all-star musicians: Ian Anderson, Billy Cobham, Patrick Moraz, Pat Travers, Steve Morse, Chuck Leavell, Les Dudek, and more, each appearing on a single track. The backing band for the majority of the album is Tommy Calton (guitar), Matt Brown (drums), Tim Franklin (bass), Michael Franklin (keyboards), and Jim Gentry (guitar), with Brown being subbed out for several different guest drummers. Most of the songs would sound at home on a late-70s Kansas album, at least sonically, and there’s even a new version of “Dust in the Wind” to cement the feeling. This song was a gem in its original form, exalting in the simplicity of finger-picked acoustic guitar, lead and harmony vocals, and a pair of violin parts (plus a brief bit of percussion at the very end). Steinhardt’s new arrangement builds it into an elaborate construction introduced by a “Prelude” of orchestral rock with a string section, brass, and full band doing variations on themes from “Dust in the Wind.” This transitions directly into the main song with the acoustic guitar augmented by piano. Steinhardt shares vocal duties with Lisa Fischer, and soon bass and drums come in, along with an ensemble of violins and cello. The violin section of the original becomes a series of solo spots for violin, piano, and two different electric guitarists. And so on, building the original into a mini-epic. I am quite uncertain that any of this improves on the original — I try to think of it as an independent piece of music, but I can’t get around the haunting shadow of the source. The other tracks don’t have this kind of baggage, and are quite solid instrumentally, with good performances and appealing arrangements. Where I have trouble is the lyrics, which are well-intended but trite, asserting that “We gotta have truth, only truth can change the world.” Or “The wind that carries the seeds of life around the world now fans the flames of drought, the sky that watches over and protects us is now sown with soot and doubt.” I’m certainly in favor of truth and protecting the planet, but I find these words more than a little annoying. Most of the time, I can tune them out and just enjoy the music, but I can’t avoid the occasional groan. For better or worse, Not in Kansas Anymore stands as the punctuation at the end of Steinhardt’s life, and the mixed nature of it is probably appropriate given his career — after all, Kansas had its high and low points as well.
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