Review: Were Not In Kansas Anymore - Dr. Music
Bobby Kimball has one of those voices.
There are some guys that are in that White Castle category of singers; a delectable sound that you crave. My shortlist is Nina Simone, Michael McDonald, James Taylor, and, yes, Bobby Kimball. When he lays his golden throat down on a track he makes it his own. The song immediately becomes a Bobby Kimball track. I’ve always been a fan of the musical monster band known as Toto, and every member contained within it. But, for me, there is a different vibe to the songs with Kimball taking on lead vocals. His tone and range has always struck a nerve in me, and when he’s given great music to sing over the results are tremendous.
Going into this solo effort I half expected it to be be something that was experimental or headed in a different direction. At the very least, I expected it to be a bit scaled down instrumentally. We’re Not In Kansas Anymore is traditional Bobby Kimball at its best. Rather than scaling down, Kimball injects an abundance of energy into these songs with brilliant keyboard runs, funky bass lines, blasting horns, and even some orchestral arrangements. Hearing David DeShazo, Nate Robinson, and especially Brian Bromberg deliver insane bass licks that rise above rather than float underneath is what makes this album a breath of fresh air. Dave Barnett’s unleashed guitar solos in songs that maintain melody and structure give this album its edge. Having John Zaika on keyboards and other great singers and instrumentalists showing off their mad skills is what makes this album incredibly impressive.
Kimball is often sited as a balladeer, having done vocals on many of Toto’s softer hits, but he can rock with the best of ‘em. Songs like “Flatline” and “On My Feet” find Kimball at his very best, adding soul and range to great instrumentation and harmonies. To call him a white soul singer in line with Darryl Hall and Michael McDonald couldn’t be any more accurate. Many of these songs have a feel that would fit perfectly on an Earth, Wind and Fire record. Perhaps the best example of this comes by way of a song called “Some They Do”. Nate Robinson starts this funk masterpiece off with a bass line that seems like it was birthed by Bootsy on the Mothership, with the accompanying horns being nothing short of genius. As far as harmony vocals, they might be the best I’ve ever heard. And the proverbial cherry on top is that all of this is perfectly mixed and produced.
There are a nice number of ballad-like songs here that are also brilliantly executed. On a song called “You’re Not Alone”, Tony Wilcox and Kimball share lead vocal duties on top of an elegant string arrangement. With an excellent contribution from Barnett on guitar, and his harmony vocal contribution with Kimball and Wilcox, “You’re Not Alone” becomes more than just a lovey-dovey ballad. “One Day” finds Kimball doing a duet with Johnny Zywiciel, and it’s another softer track that has these same qualities with a nice groove and hook. But, even with great softer material, I think the meat and potatoes of this record lies in its ability to jam. Even though it is perfectly structured and tight in every position, this album has a fluid spontaneity to it. These tracks seem to welcome a group jam session with open arms.
All the tunes on the record are written by Kimball, Zaika, and Barnett. What I find pretty fascinating is the similarity of style to the vintage Toto material that they achieve; expertly written and performed pop songs with rock, jazz, funk, and soul qualities that run rampant. It’s what Toto did best, and it’s the legacy that Kimball keeps alive and kicking with this near perfect offering.