Toto, Where Are We?

Like fine wine, music often carries with it a sense of place, a terroir, if you will. Southern rock, British heavy metal, South African kwaito, Scandinavian death metal — the imprint of place on these soundscapes is unavoidable and often fairly heavily referenced in the music itself. Some acts like to take this notion of spatial relevance a step further, making damn sure nobody forgets where they're from. For these groups, a rose by any other name just might not smell as sweet.

Boogie-prog powerhouse Kansas provides a perfect example of regional rock and roll pride. Sure, the bandmates dabbled with the overseas art-rock shenanigans of ELP, but they always wore their heartland on their sleeves. Even at the height of their modal bombast, that good ol' Midwestern shuffle was there, adding a dusty dishevelment to all of their carefully crafted theatricality. This undercurrent of roots-rocking Americana helped temper the group's prog tendencies, keeping it accessible to the radio-rock fan base that made the bandmates superstars. Part and parcel with the barroom sound, the group's name calls to mind American-ness and accessibility, something the band would not have had if it had kept its onetime moniker, White Clover, and shed its boogie roots.

Kansas certainly isn't the only outfit to employ its origin as such an intrinsic element in the band's dynamic. We've compiled a shortlist of similarly minded acts from home and abroad.

Alabama: Probably the definitive country band of the modern era, Alabama boasts a Southern sound and occasional mountain music tendencies — combined with the band members' ear for rock and pop music sensibilities — that helped redefine country music, making the current wave of country superstar bands possible. All the while, their sound and style have always reminded audiences they're just a bunch of boys from Lookout Mountain.

Chelsea: The best punk band you've never heard of, this group of London misfits (including Billy Idol, once upon a time) epitomized urban England in the Seventies and Eighties. Their sound, their style, their insolence — these boys were anti-Thatcherite posterchildren. Don't believe us? Listen to "Right to Work."

Boston: Prog rock played by an MIT engineering graduate. Nuff said.

The E Street Band: New Jersey has always figured heavily in The Boss's music, and the E Street Band is the perfect interpreter of the sound of turnpikes, alleyways, dreams, and a no-account Jersey boy making good.

Earth: Probably the most ambitious example, this drone doom band has tapped into the sound of the planet itself. But not in some wishy-washy, new-age, world music bullshit concept of planetary harmony. We mean the sound of a huge, nearly ageless chunk of rock slowly turning through the centuries, in the vast emptiness of space.


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