Solar Music 2021
On the edge of the rainbow bridge, KANSAS’ wayward son enters eternity on his own terms.
Robby Steinhardt’s untimely passing on July 17th, 2021 robbed the world of one of the most distinctive performers. Uniquely colorful, the American fiddler might have conscripted himself, quite famously, to a single ensemble and never ventured out on his own, the artist’s only extracurricular musical affair limited to a bunch of recordings done in the company of guitarist Rick Moon in the ’90s, which makes “Not In Kansas Anymore” his first – and, sadly, last – solo platter. Designed to become “a prog opera” and mapped out when Steinhardt guested on Jon Anderson‘s "1000 Hands: Chapter One" extravaganza, it didn’t turn out as a conceptual narrative but, what’s more important, the presence of many luminaries didn’t overshadow Robby’s personality.
Knowing Steinhardt’s warmly wicked sense of humor, it wouldn’t be too difficult to divine that the piece whose sound comes the closest to the sonic palette of his former band is the platter’s titular finale – although there’s a bonus hymn appended at the end, “A Prayer For Peace” – a perfect foil for the album’s opener “Tempest”: an instrumental statement of intent where Steinhardt’s portentous violin rages, with a promise of things to come. The anger will abate once the sweet a cappella and streamlined synthesizer wave of “Truth 2 Power” unfold the full perspective of the veteran’s method in which groove and his soft voice find the fastest way to the listener’s heart, via pop tune and Pat Travers’ rocking wigout.
However, while Patrick Moraz piano passages pacify the urban tumult of “Mother Earth” created by bass and organ courtesy of the Franklins, Tim and producer Michael, and a different, idealistic sort of riff-roughed magic is evoked here, a chamber one, the scintillating mini-epic “Tuck Tuck” – which is smoothed with Les Dudek’s slider – paints the less serene series of arresting city characters, the downtown royalty. But if the acoustically tinctured “Rise Of The Phoenix (Climb To Grace)” edges towards orchestral fusion thanks to additional strings augmenting Robby’s flight, Steve Morse’s soaring and Billy Cobham’s imaginative thunder, and “The Phoenix” takes the strum and vocal harmonies even higher to the stratosphere, it’s, of course, a symphonic refreshment of “Dust In The Wind” – ushered in with the magnificent “Prelude” and featuring Lisa Fischer as Steinhardt’s singing partner and Chuck Leavell’s on the ivories – that should steal the scene. Given a “Stairway To Heaven” quote and quite a few lines of improv, it does – spiritually so.
And then there’s a telltale-titled, albeit wordless, “Pizzacato” that sees Robby’s baroque plucking interwoven with harpsichord and Ian Anderson‘s woodwind and led into Renaissance reeds to emphasize the abiding feeling of adventure. Factor in references to “The Wizard of Oz” – including a strain of “Over The Rainbow” – and the familiar “Carry on!” – this optimistic call-to-action, and “Not In Kansas Anymore” will swirl around you like a tornado. Unfortunately, it was the ultimate, legacy-preserving trip for Robby Steinhardt.