Sound — 6
For fans of Carry On My Wayward Sun or Dust in the Wind, news that Kansas members Phil Ehart (drums), Richard Williams (guitar), David Ragsdale (violin), and Billy Greer (bass/vocals) would be forming a side project sounded promising. Native Window is a distinct, separate venture from anything Kansas has done in the past, a fact that isn't shocking considering that primary songwriters (Steve Walsh and Kerry Livgren) are notably absent. Although there are brief moments that recall the epic recordings from back in 1970s, the vast majority of songs on Native Windows' debut album are unfortunately a disappointment. Apparently the members made an effort to sound nothing like Kansas, and it's true that no one can accuse them of creating a carbon copy of their past records. There's nothing wrong with stripping down one's sound, which is precisely what Native Window has done, but there still needs to be traits within the songwriting that draw the listener in and keep their attention. In this case, the driving force in the 10-track album is violinist Ragsdale, who manages to enliven the lackluster moments. From the traditionally grand into of Money to his experimental approach in Got To Get Out Of This Town, Ragsdale's parts take you back to all the great moments of Kansas. When the violin takes a break and lets the synth, guitar, and bass take the spotlight, things to tend to lean toward the duller side. Money, Surrender, and The Moment simply aren't engaging enough and tend to be your run-of-the-mill adult contemporary tracks. Native Window does try out a few styles during the CD, revisiting the blues in Blood in the Water and trying their hand at balladry in The Light of Day. Interestingly enough, it's the ballad that makes the biggest impression because it sounds the most heartfelt and isn't saturated by unnecessary production work. It might not match the poignancy of Dust in the Wind, but The Light of Day is absolutely a beautifully written song.
Lyrics — 8
There is an overall positive message to Native Window's music, between the idealistic philosophy of Money and the never-let-them-get-you-down approach to Still (We Will Go On). A wide variety of people (besides the band itself) are given writing credits in the liner notes, so that helps to keep the word construction fresh. Some might be leery of a band that isn't able to write all of its own material, but it's not necessarily a detriment to the CD.
Overall Impression — 7
If you're expecting any semblance of Kansas in the new group Native Window, you'll feel a little shortchanged. Granted, Ragsdale still delivers some of the most unusual and creative approaches to violin the rock world, and he is utilized quite often on the CD. Billy Greer may not be able to hit as many awe-inspiring notes as Steve Walsh, but vocally he still does a solid job. There is no question the quartet features competent musicians, but the songwriting simply is not doing them justice at this point.