Dukes of the Orient – Dukes of the Orient

Dukes of the Orient – Dukes of the Orient
Frontiers Records – FR CD 845
Bassist/vocalist extraordinaire John Payne and keyboard maestro Erik Norlander have once again joined forces, and the result is mesmerizing. A few years removed from the Asia featuring John Payne era, John and Erik have unleashed both their musical and songwriting talents creating a CD that wonderfully melds the intricacies of prog with the pop sensibilities that Asia was known for during the Payne era. This is obvious straight out of the gate as the rollicking “Brothers In Arms” appears both radio ready with enough musical prowess to please the most ardent prog rock fans. While vestiges of Asia are obvious, the envelope is stretched further – very evident in the driving power of “ A Sorrows’s Crown” and the ear-opening opus “Give Another Reason.”  Songs like “Time Waits For No One” and “Seasons Will Change” are strong with their comforting hooks; the musicianship being tempered a bit, but still amazing in a subtle way. It does feel even more like a reunion when you see the guest musicians include guitarists who were members of the John-Payne-era Asia (Jeff Kollman, Moni Scaria, Bruce Bouillet, and Guthrie Govan) along with Asia featuring John Payne drummer Jay Schellen. This is mostly John’s and Erik’s work, combining influences of their past collaborations with other facets of their songwriting souls to create some brilliant music. – MW



Erik Norlander – Surreal

Erik Norlander – Surreal
Think Tank Media – TTMD-1058
Keyboard maestro Erik Norlander has been unleashing his prodigious talents for quite a few years now. Beyond his projects including Rocket Scientists and Galactic Collective, as well as recording with “prog diva” wife Lana Lane and other acts, he does also circle around and simply stamp his own name on projects. Pure Erik Norlander…pure brilliance! His latest creation “Surreal” weaves down various avenues of progressive rock with some interesting paths, drawing in the listener and never letting up on the musical intrigue from start to finish. Erik does tend to launch his CDs with overtures, and here we have “The Party’s Overture” which meshes touches of hookiness with the right doses of instrumental prowess. “The Galaxy Collectors” is a sci-fi opus that gallops along with a boogie-type rhythmic vibe. “Suitcase and Umbrella” tilts in a mellower direction with alternating lush piano and synth passages, and a slightly bluesy tilt at times, especially when guitarist Alastair Greene (Alan Parsons Project) cuts loose. Lana lends her soaring vocal expertise to the title track, the only non-instrumental song; a mid-tempo groover that starts with a subtle intensity before blooming to a fierce finish. While Erik’s keyboard wizardry is the focal point, he also never shies away from allowing his musical cohorts display their chops. Along with Greene’s stellar guitar work, you have the wicked bass licks of Mark Matthews, the frenetic but stoic drumming of Nick LePar, and flavorful percussion additions from Greg Ellis. Returning collaborators Jeff Kollman, Mark McCrite, and Don Schiff lend their skills as well. Erik actually does not seem to be re-inventing the wheel here. In fact, it seems like sometimes he is more back to basics and keeping things on the simple side. But everyone knows that in the world of progressive rock, simple still means stunning musicianship, crisp but life-like production, and intriguing songwriting. Erik Norlander more then delivers on all those facets…he always has. It is very apparent he has a very deep well of innovative ideas to fuse with his love of music that shows no signs whatsoever of running dry. – MW


Erik Norlander-Surreal 600x600

Jack Jeffery – Enlightened Horizon

Jack Jeffery – Enlightened Horizon
Jack Jeffery was definitely paying attention to the pioneers of prog rock. That is a good thing as he has found a way to channel his influences into his own sound. You can hear the tendrils of Pink Floyd, Moody Blues, Marillion, and Renaissance among others in Jack’s work. You also hear folksy passages in “The Road That Never Ends,” electronica more in the Prodigy direction in “Continuum,” and even a touch of Americana in the dramatic opus “Never Go Back to the Mountain.” He also has a knack for creating infectious grooves that really draw you in, particularly evident in tracks like “Trans-Celestial Express.” Jack has incredible stories to tell and does them both with his soul bearing lyrics, powerfully melodic vocal croon and prowess on a plethora of instruments and keyboards. Proving that prog can still be innovative even while holding dear to your roots, this is some excellent ear-opening music. – MW


Rocket Scientists – Refuel

Rocket Scientists – Refuel
Think Tank Media
It has been seven years since the last full-length CD by the Rocket Scientists. They gave us a tasty little snack earlier this year with “Supernatural Highways,” but to now say that not only was the wait well worth it and that the new release “Refuel” is a veritable feast of delectable prog rock flavors is not in the very least cliche or hyperbolic, because it is so true. The founding trio of keyboard maestro Erik Norlander, proficiently talented guitarist/vocalist Mark McCrite, and NS/Chapman stick/bass wizard Don Schiff brings their A+ game here, evident in both the songwriting and the musical prowess on display. The title track which is also the lead track explodes with tempered power, a perfect instrumental appetizer for what is to come. “She’s Getting Hysterical,” the first single off the CD has a hooky quality interspersed with edgier passages, with slightly tongue-in-cheek lyrics and wonderful vocals by Mark. “Martial” has a haunting vibe with pulsing rhythms highlighting Don’s talents, while “The World Waits For You” is a mesmerizing and musically intricate ballad. “Galilieo” is space rock at its pinnacle, something Erik has always been highly adept at creating. “It’s Over/Regenerate” is perhaps a microcosm of the astounding capabilities of this band with multiple musical twists and turns that leave you in rapt anticipation of what is around the next bend. Several noted guests add to the flavor of the CD including Erik’s wife – prog “diva” Lana Lane; drummer extraordinaire Gregg Bissonette; and vocal powerhouse Kelly Keeling who lends his skills to the horn section graced “Cheshire Cat Smile.” Rocket Scientists have on every occasion of recording projects proved that they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as highly regarded prog rock acts such as Spock’s Beard, Dream Theater, and Porcupine Tree. This band has paid their dues and definitely has the talent to back that statement with this highly anticipated new release.   – MW


Reanimation – Under The Last Tree on Earth

Reanimation – Under The Last Tree on Earth
Michael Shanahan is unafraid of taking chances with the music he creates. The life-brimming soundscapes of his project Reanimation weave diverse stylings of prog rock, new age, industrial and subtleties of other genres into a heady musical stew that can make you alternately bang your head in time to it, or just sit back and enjoy the effort that went into its creation. This is the product of intelligent talents, pushing the envelope until it opens up and unleashes a vibrant palette both beautiful and pulsing with hypnotic vibrance. “Dead Heart Souvenir” launches the music with a subtly seething groove prove to intense sonic ejaculations. “Surprise Hitchhiker” is like Bowie hanging out with Radiohead at a Prodigy concert. “Growing With The Growing Light” makes one think that somewhere their may gave been a punk rocker in the woodpile. Yes, this is intelligent, but it also has the right doses of the bizarre, flavored further with the fact that there is excellent musicianship throughout, and in just the right doses and the right places. Great music for those who want something that is out of the ordinary, but still rocks and created with great passion. – MW


Rocket Scientists – Supernatural Highways

Rocket Scientists – Supernatural Highways
Think Tank Media – TTMD-1056
I remember a long time ago when I got the album “Close To the Edge” by Yes, and thinking, how does a full album have only three songs on it? On my first listen to the title track, the word “epic” ran through my cranium and I immediately understood. The latest release from the Rocket Scientists gave me a serious case of deja-vu in this regard. Not surprising considering the track record of this gem of a prog rock act featuring the maestro trio nucleus of keyboardist Erik Norlander, guitarist Mark McCrite and NS/Stick player Don Schiff, with several very talented “assistants” including Gregg Bissonette, Greg Ellis, and Lana Lane. There are actually only two tracks on this EP, with the lead one being the twenty-six minute plus opus “Traveler on the Supernatural Highways.” Like the aforementioned “Close To the Edge,” the pure musical prowess alone is enough to keep you enraptured throughout the prodigious length. The song has seven distinct parts, ranging from ethereal soul caressing to intoxicating industrial throbbing to power rocking fire. This is the type of journey that the band entices the listener to come along for the ride, where you really can feel and experience their travels heightening the enjoyment of this delectable musical feast. Then you get a very tasty resort as the second song (a mere four minutes and fourteen seconds) is a groovy rockin’ version of the theme song from the James Bond film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” complete with a horn section. When you listen to the Rocket Scientists’ music, both here and on previous recordings, it gives you a certain perspective about progressive rock. Musical talents of the highest order are a prerequisite in this genre, and that is a facet that is a no-brainer here. But some prog can get a tad pretentious, bombastic and even cold and calculated. Not the case with the Rocket Scientists as you can just get the idea here that they are smiling while creating this music, really enjoying being able to channel their capabilities into something their fans will smile about as well. This is the greatest gift that any band can give their fans, and the fans of the Rocket Scientists will now doubt be downright giddy with their latest present. – MW http://www.thetank.com