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Kansas: “Masque” 1975

Released September 20, 1975, "Masque" is the third studio album by the American rock band Kansas. Kansas is known for their unique blend of progressive rock, art rock, and hard rock elements.

I first became aware of this album, and of Kansas itself, when a fraternity brother from another chapter named Joe transferred to my school and moved into the frat house that year, bringing his collection of albums with him. Kansas' breakout album "Leftoverture" was still a year away, but "Masque" was my preview of coming attractions.

The unusual album cover art reproduces the painting "Water", by Italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo, in which an assemblage of various aquatic creatures are combined to form a human-like face in profile.

While "Masque" may not be as well-known as some of Kansas's later albums, it contributed to the band's growing reputation in the progressive rock scene during the 1970s. The album demonstrated their musical versatility and laid the foundation for their future successes, including the breakthrough album "Leftoverture" released in 1976.

"Masque" features a mix of shorter, more straightforward songs alongside longer, more complex compositions. Some notable tracks from the album include "It Takes a Woman's Love (To Make a Man)," "All the World," "Icarus - Borne on Wings of Steel" and "The Pinnacle." The latter is a multi-part epic that showcases the band's progressive and symphonic influences.

"Masque" was recorded primarily at Studio in the Country in Bogalusa, Louisiana. The album was produced by the band in collaboration with Jeff Glixman. The recording sessions took place in 1975.

The band members involved in the recording of "Masque" were Steve Walsh - keyboards, vocals; Robby Steinhardt - violin, vocals; Kerry Livgren - guitar, keyboards; Rich Williams - guitar; Dave Hope - bass; Phil Ehart - drums, percussion.

"Masque" marked a point in Kansas's discography where they were refining their sound, incorporating a mix of progressive and symphonic elements. The use of violin, keyboards, and intricate arrangements became trademarks of Kansas's sound during this period.

Track by track:

  1. It Takes a Woman's Love (To Make a Man): This track opens the album with a more straightforward rock sound compared to some of Kansas's later works. It features catchy melodies, driven by Steve Walsh's distinctive vocals. The song showcases the band's ability to blend rock elements with a progressive edge.
  2. Two Cents Worth: This track continues the album with a dynamic blend of rock and progressive elements. It features intricate instrumental sections, showcasing the band's musical prowess. The interplay between guitar, keyboards, and violin is a notable aspect of this composition.
  3. Icarus - Borne on Wings of Steel: One of the highlights of the album, "Icarus" is a multi-part epic that demonstrates Kansas's progressive rock tendencies. The song features shifting dynamics, intricate arrangements, and showcases each band member's musical skills. The title refers to the Greek myth of Icarus, and the music effectively captures the sense of soaring and falling.
  4. All the World: This song brings a more melodic and accessible side to the album. It has a catchy chorus and features the band's trademark use of violin and keyboards. The song's lyrics touch on themes of love and unity.
  5. Child of Innocence: This track features a twin-lead harmony guitar intro and explores the theme of innocence. As the song progresses, it builds in intensity, incorporating the band's progressive tendencies. Robby Steinhardt's violin work is particularly noteworthy.
  6. It's You: "It's You" is a relatively short and straightforward love song, featuring softer acoustic elements. It provides a moment of respite in the album's overall dynamic range.
  7. Mysteries and Mayhem: This track showcases the band's instrumental prowess. It features shifting time signatures and intricate interplay between guitar, keyboards, and violin, creating a sense of mystery and intrigue.
  8. The Pinnacle: Closing the album, "The Pinnacle" is another multi-part epic. Clocking in at over nine minutes, it explores various musical themes and emotions. The song's structure and complexity contribute to the album's progressive rock identity.

"Masque" as a whole is a diverse album that showcases Kansas's ability to seamlessly blend rock, progressive, and symphonic elements. The combination of strong vocals, intricate instrumentals, and thought-provoking lyrics solidified the band's place in the progressive rock genre during the 1970s.

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