What do you get when you take Steve Walsh and Kerry Livgren out of Kansas: Native Window. If you’re familiar with Kansas’s history even a little bit, you’ll know that the band has seen lots of players come and go, old members reuniting, even a stint with Steve Morse on guitar, and what I personally feel are some great overlooked latter-day albums. The lineup of the band of 1991-1997 included newer guys Billy Greer on bass and vocals and David Ragsdale stepping in for Robby Steinhardt on violin. Now these two dudes and original Kansas members, drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams, have created a tight little unit called Native Window and released a 10-song, self-titled CD. The inevitable Kansas comparisons will be hard to avoid, but as Mr. Williams told me (yeah, I am name dropper huh?), this isn't a Kansas album.
On the first two tunes, “Money” and “Still (We Will Go On),” we’re into some straight- ahead playing (although "Still" does have some cool tom-toms going for it in the beginning). We get simple lyrics and solid vocals (and that's Phil Ehart and Richard Williams singing backing vocals for the first time in their careers). "Surrender" has got a great groove. Even when Ehart is playing simple he still plays great, and there's Williams’ nice little acoustic touches. “The Way You Haunt Me” really is the first place where that Kansas thang comes in, but there is a nice immediacy to this one — great vocals over an interplay of Williams’ guitar and Ragsdale’s violin that really cooks. “The Light Of Day” is a pretty vocal/acoustic guitar/violin ballad and “An Ocean Away” picks up with a great arpeggiated opening and nice backing vocals.
“Blood In The Water” has got a great groovin’ snap to it, a wild slicing violin, with Williams’ short staccato riffs, pull-offs and precisely placed rhythms and power chords. I dig the backing vocals too. Ehart provides a deceptive back beat fully worthy of his killer skin status. As he told me (yes, I am name dropping again), Native Window drumming is different than Kansas drumming — there is no overplaying anywhere here or any moments of a song lasting too long. In fact, there are some real commercial sounding tunes, with perfect radio lengths and singable choruses. “Got To Get Out Of This Town” lifts off with some opening guitar tapping, some spacey violin runs, and one of the best vocals on the CD from Greer. Ehart and Williams are featured nicely during the instrumental middle section. The CD ends with a nice Rich Williams’ led-acoustic drive on “The Moment.”
Native Window showcases four talented guys, with a heavy emphasis on Greer’s voice and Ragsdales’ violin. To be fair, Williams and Ehart, while masters for sure, have never been flashy players. One tends to have to really listen to recognize the passionate players that they are and always have been. And while at times, you may find yourself wanting those tight key changes and the blistering speed, you may be taken aback with how radio-friendly commercial some of these tunes sound. It might be not be the thing Kansas fans are looking for, but Native Window offers a glimpse into a different mindset of musicians with a legacy to live up to.
~ Ralph Greco, Jr.