Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
AD - Time Line
Musical Style: Hard Rock Produced By: Kerry Livgren
Record Label: CBS Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 1984 Artist Website: Kerry Livgren
Tracks: 10 Rating: 75%
Running Time: 42:08

AD - Time Line

Angelic Warlord readers should be familiar with Kerry Livgren, the original guitarist and keyboardist of classic progressive rock group Kansas with whom he penned such well known hits as “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust In The Wind”.  His tenure in the group was actually short lived in light of its five-decade (and counting!) span, having departed Kansas in 1983 following its founding - at least in its most well known and successful form - ten years previous.  Many are also aware that his early Kansas years were a period in which he was on a spiritual journey, with the groups seventies heyday a time in which he was into ‘various forms of mysticism and Eastern philosophies that increasingly influenced both his music and his lyrics’.  As the seventies transitioned to the eighties, however, Livgren’s spiritual journey reached its apex in that he made a decision of faith (as noted in his autobiography Seeds Of Change): 

“Unlike my previous religious experiences, my conversion was based on repentance from sin.  I finally understood that believing in Christ means more than intellectual assent; it means turning away from sin (repentance) and choosing to receive Christ's gift of salvation.  This time I knew my quest had reached an end- the years of searching were over.”

Since art is an extension of its creator, it is difficult to separate one’s faith from one’s personal expression, and such is the case with Livgren.  Starting with Kansas’ 1980 release Audio-Visions and his solo album Seeds Of Change from the same year, Livgren’s newfound faith started to lyrically influence his art on tracks such as “Relentless” and “No One Together” (former) and entire album (latter).  By the time 1982 rolled around, Kansas bassist Dave Hope had also come to the faith, but things had come to a head as well in that vocalist Steve Walsh refused to sing Livgren’s Christian influenced lyrics and subsequently departed the group before it could record its next album, Vinyl Confession.  Enter newly recruited front man and fellow believer John Elefante, who joined Kansas in time to complete work on Vinyl Confessions in addition to its 1983 follow up effort Drastic Measures

When Livgren decided to record his second solo album Time Line, he wanted to work with a group of musicians he had already been acquainted.  Hence, it made sense for Hope to handle bass, while the same applies for vocalist Warren Ham, whom Livgren became acquainted with in the mid-seventies when Ham’s group Bloodrock opened for Kansas.  Ham tried out for Kansas’ lead vocalist position followed the departure of Walsh, and while he did not get the gig, he later went on to tour with Kansas playing saxophone, flute, harmonica, and singing back.  Vocalist and keyboardist Michael Gleason came into the fold after sending Livgren a demo tape, which impressed Livgren to such an extent that the two immediately began working together.  Gleason later toured with Kansas as a back up vocalist and keyboardist.  Finally, Dennis Holt came on board after meeting Livgren backstage at a Kansas concert and later lobbying heavily to be the Time Line drummer.

As work on Time Line progressed, it became evident to all involved that what started as a solo album was beginning to take shape as a band.  With all its members committed believers, Livgren’s new group AD officially came into being in 1983 and released Time Line on CBS Records the following year.  Time Line has been re-issued on CD twice, with the first in 1992 on Sparrow Records as part of the two-disc box set Decade, that also included Seeds Of Change and second in 1996 on Sony Records with a 24 minute interview with Livgren as a bonus track.   

Whereas orchestration played a major role with Livgren’s songwriting in Kansas - or in his words ‘unorthodox, orchestral jazz-rock classical music’ or ‘provocative adaptations of classical music within a rock framework’ if you will - he backs away from such an approach with AD.  Time Line, for instance, does not feature any epic length tracks such as Kansas classics “Song For America” (10:03), “Apercu” (9:54) and “The Pinnacle” (9:44) but rather truncated and more compact songwriting mostly in the four to five minute range.  It would be more accurate as a result to describe Time Line as mainstream eighties rock to hard rock with progressive influences akin to late period Kansas albums Drastic Measures, Vinyl Confessions and Audio-Visions.  Yes, progressive aspect still imbue Livgren’s songwriting, but they come across subdued in comparison to his earlier work in Kansas (for a more progressive side to Livgren check out his turn of the century project Proto-Kaw).  

What AD did allow was for Livgren to pursue musical paths that did not quite fit the Kansas mold.  Consider the Time Line opening title track in this capacity, a multifarious piece in which funky to groove bass driven blandishments and corresponding horn section allow for some distinct outside the box nuances.  Lending further variances are the hard rocking rhythm guitars that cut in a minute and a half into the song not to mention the jazzy saxophone solo that carries the instrumental moments.

“Tonight” ensues and plays up a commercial rock sentiment with forward keyboards and polished backing vocals flourish.  This is one of those songs that has always played a ‘tweener’ role with me- I do not love it, but nor do I hate it.  Rather, it falls somewhere ‘in between’.  The problem is that as an above average to good song (in my opinion) I always felt “Tonight” came a bit early in the track listing; perhaps it might have worked better if it had come later and played a ‘deep cut’ role as a result.

Note that I had the same problem with Vinyl Confessions from how it opened to the hit “Play The Game Tonight”, which gave way to the only song I do not like on the album, “Right Away”.  It has been my experience that the best way to draw the listener in is to start an album to two to three great songs instead. 

“Make Or Break It”, first of two Michael Gleason penned cuts, comes across in the form of a mid-tempo AOR laced eighties commercial rocker.  The song mirrors a distinguished if not stately resonance, with guitars giving prominence to front to back bluesy tinges and animated bass lending to the palatial scene.  Gleason shines with his melodic classic tenor vocal qualities.

“Takes Us To The Water” rates with the albums heaviest.  An upbeat stance is taken from the get to, with rhythm guitars crossing the threshold of hard rock as the bluesy elements that manifest on “Make Or Break It” take to the next level.  Warren Ham stands out equally with a soulful vocal penchant that reaches for the middle register.  Both harmonica and Livgren’s keyed up lead guitar carry things instrumentally.

Albums shortest at just three and a half minutes, “Beyond The Pale” takes Time Line in ballad territory and quite well at that.  Gentle and wistful, the song slowly flows to piano and keyboards in lending a light worshipful slant, particularly for the sublime ‘the lion lies down with the lamb’ refrain.  The signature AD lofty backing vocals help to make this my favorite of the two Gleason composed cuts.

Back to driving hard rock with “New Age Blues”.  Similar to “Take Us To The Water”, rhythm guitar sets a decisive tone with Ham’s harmonica further emphasizing the overriding bluesy sentiments.  The underrated Dave Hope underpins things with his thick as it gets bass presence.  Instrumentally, Livgren delivers the type of intense guitar solo of which only he is capable.

It took some time to embrace “Slow Motion Suicide” with its entire keyboard driven basis.  No doubt, this is one of several tracks allowing Livgren to break from the ‘Kansas mold’, but it works in light of the quality to the music at hand.  A forthright melody, for instance, sets the song apart, as does a sleek instrumental break to feature (what sounds like) a clarinet solo.  Only complaint is that I wish guitars had played a role in some capacity, even if minor such as a brief guitar solo.

“High On A Hill” is the most Kansas like of the Time Line tracks with its quasi progressiveness.  With drum rolls at the start that give way to a forwardly rolling up-tempo groove, the song rollicks to Livgren’s distinctive keyboards (for the cavorting verses) but can also take on an imposing flair (upon acquiring the lofty refrain).  Best part might be the jam fusion instrumental moments, which give prominence to a torrid lead guitar run. 

“Life Undercover” is albums lone track to escape me.  Perhaps it is from reflecting too much of a pop essence or that guitars end up downplayed, but I find the song a bit diluted for my taste.  If it had drawn upon a firmer guitar foundation or included a killer guitar solo I might not pass.  Besides, one and a half skip buttons on a ten-song album is not bad (I consider “Tonight” half a skip button because half the time I skip over it).

Spiritual warfare treatise “Welcome To The War” closes things in very fine progressive fashion.  The song bases itself upon an emotional allure, as calmer verses that play up acoustic guitar and airy keyboards trade off with a momentous refrain in which hammering guitars deliver a definitive blow.  All the while Livgren decorates things with his bluesy soloing abilities to help make as near a perfect musical statement as possible.

I rate Time Line as having the best production of the four AD albums, which (as far as I can tell) attributes to an obvious bigger budget from being on mainstream label CBS Records.  Follow up AD albums Art Of The State (1985) and Reconstructions (1986) came out on Kerrygma Records (distributed by Sparrow) and Prime Mover (1988) on Sparrow Records. 

It is my observation that Livgren and Hope were forerunners of a movement that led to more and more believers working within the mainstream music scene, a trend that continues to this day.  In other words, the two blazed a trail that many other bands and musicians have followed, beginning in the eighties with Stryper on Enigma Records and later Barren Cross and Guardian (same label).  I find it interesting how Livgren wrote the following in Seeds Of Change (from the chapter “The Art Of Rock”):

“It is entirely possible, if not probable, however, that the secular system will not continue to tolerate a Christian message within its framework.  The gospel is, after all, a stumbling-block and an offense to the world.”

Am I out of line to suggest the exact opposite has held true?  At least when factoring how the as noted Stryper, Barren Cross and Guardian were potentially more open and direct - and accept this as neutral observation and not critique - in terms of the Gospel message when placed alongside that of Livgren during his latter Kansas period and on Time Line. That said Livgren’s intelligently written prose is by no means watered down or fails to get the point across, as is evident on “High On A Hill”:

A day is like a thousand years, and a
Thousand like a day
You're questioning the reason and you're
Hoping for delay
But it always comes out right
And it's coming like a thief at night, Steal away

On the dark horizon rose the Light of a different day
Spreading over all the world to show the Living Way
And it makes it all so clear
If you open up your ears and hear, now I say 

“Welcome To The War” represents a bold treatise on spiritual warfare:

The Power and the Glory will not be put to shame
The world in which we're meant to live
Has been revealed, and conquered in His name

To those who hold the future as a time when all is well
The truth is in the knowing of a heaven or a hell
For the aliens and strangers it's a time we must endure
For the light grows dim, the victory is sure

Welcome to the war
There is no neutrality
Welcome to the last world war
Welcome to the war
It's the one reality
Tell me who you're fighting for

“Time Line”, as its title implies, talks of moving from one point to another within a specific time-frame:

You want to keep it all forever
But you can't retain it
It's an impossible endeavor
You can never regain it
As it fades in the distance,
it's disappearing

The deception is alluring
But the truth is living
Your desire is reoccurring
But there's always forgiving
As you peer in the distance,
The future's waiting

“Take Us To The Water” talks of the salvation experience:

It's burnt in my memory, the face of the crowd
Lost in the desert, they were cryin' out loud
Some voices were cursing, some singing in praise
It's one or the other when the curtain is raised

I'll give you fountains that never run dry
Like eagles you will fly
No tear in anyone's eye
And the glory won't fade forever, forever on

Lead us to the water, and wash away the fear
Take us to the water that will never disappear

To this day believing artists within the metal and hard rock community continue to walk through doors initially opened by Livgren and Hope.  Inside Out Records, for instance, is home to Affector and its debut album Harmageddon in which it sets Biblical text to heavy progressive based music.  I cannot help but feel Livgren would identify musically with not only Affector but also fellow progressive rock artist Neal Morse, whom on Radiant Records has released concept album such as One, dealing with how through the salvation experience man can become one with God again, and Sola Scriptura, detailing the life of the reformer Martin Luther.  Underground Symphony Records has released in recent years lyrically forthright albums from S91 (Behold The Mankind) and Choirs Of Veritis (I Am The Way, The Truth And The Life), while Bad Omen records is home to Wytch Hazel and its debut offering Prelude which features song titles such as “More Than Conquers”, Mighty King” and “He Shall Reign”. 

Of course, it would be unfair if I also did not reference the various projects of Rob Rock (Impellitteri, Driver, solo albums, etc) not to mention those from Narnia, Jacobs Dream, LEAH, Paul May (Atkins May Project), William Tsamis (Warlord) and Richard West (Threshold).

This begs the following question: Why hasn’t that stumbling block manifested itself as Livgren suggested?  Why does the mainstream music world continue to release music with lyrics that could not be more straightforward in terms of its Christian content?  I cannot help but think Acts 2: 17 sheds proper light on the matter:

“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.”

Time Line finds Livgren escaping the writers block that plagues him at the time of Drastic Measures, a work in which he contributed just three songs (John Elefante took up the songwriting slack).  Stand out material abounds, with my favorite cuts including “Time Line”, “Take Us To The Water”, “New Age Blues”, “High On A Hill” and “Welcome To The War”.  I find albums remaining material mostly hit but with an occasional miss, noting how I hit the skip button one and a half times.  It would have been interesting if Livgren had explored his progressive side a bit further and extended a song or two into six to seven minute range or longer, but that would also be defeating the purpose in that the entire point behind AD was for him to explore musical boundaries outside the Kansas framework.  All in all Time Line succeeds in this regard as an eighties commercial hard rock album with light progressive lacings.

Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: "Time Line" (4:02), "Tonight" (4:52), "Make Or Break It" (3:48), "Take Us To The Water" (4:27), "Beyond The Pale" (3:33), "New Age Blues" (3:54), "Slow Motion Suicide" (4:46), "High On A Hill" (3:51), "Life Undercover" (3:26), "Welcome To The War" (5:10)

Kerry Livgren - Guitars, Keyboards, DMX Prog. & Bass
Michael Gleason - Lead Vocals, Keyboards & Percussion
Warren Ham - Lead Vocals, Woodwinds & Harmonica
Dave Hope - Bass
Dennis Holt - Drums & Percussion

Reference List
Livgren, Kerry & Boa Kenneth. Seeds Of Change. Sparrow Press, 1991.


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