DUKES OF THE ORIENT – Dukes Of The Orient [Japan Edition +1] (2018)
What do you get when you match a Brit from London who loves American AOR with an American from California who grew up on British prog? DUKES OF THE ORIENT is the masterful pairing of vocalist John Payne (ex-ASIA, GPS) with keyboardist Erik Norlander (LAST IN LINE, LANA LANE) who now present their eponymous debut album, ten years in the making.
The album will be released via Frontiers Music, but just surfaced in Japan with a superb bonus track.
John Payne was the lead vocalist and bass player of Asia from 1991 to 2006, replacing John Wetton. With Payne at the helm, the English band released eight studio albums, from 1992’s Aqua to 2004’s Silent Nation. In 2006, the original lineup of Asia reunited (Keyboardist Geoff Downes, Guitarist Steve Howe, Drummer Carl Palmer, and Wetton), leaving Payne out of the group and prompting him to continue with the moniker ‘Asia Featuring John Payne’, backed up by the remaining members of the group who were also sidetracked by the reunion.
The new outfit resumed activity and started to work on a new album, but was also beset with occasional personnel changes. However, when Wetton died in January 2017, Payne and Erik Norlander (his keyboardist in Asia Featuring John Payne), ultimately decided to drop the appellation altogether and assume a new name in respect to Wetton’s memory, ultimately relinquishing Asia once and for all, also for the sake of Downes and Palmer.
Thus, Dukes Of The Orient was born.
The re-christened group did not waste any more time. Led by Payne (vocals, bass, guitar) as well as Norlander (keyboards) and augmented by Jeff Kollman (guitar), Guthrie Govan (guitar), Moni Scaria (guitar), Bruce Bouillet (guitar), Molly Rogers (strings), and Jay Schellen (drums), Dukes Of The Orient finally finished the recordings that they had been working on for almost a decade as Asia feat. John Payne.
The self-titled album opens with the melodramatic chops of “Brother in Arms,” which glows warmly with an aura of Journey’s Separate Ways (Worlds Apart). Flickering and undulating next in the same vibrations is the mid-tempo ballad “Strange Days,” whose catchy guitar and anthemic keyboard interlude are just the right flare and lick, never overbearing but complementing instead Payne’s trademark vocal harmonies.
The Dukes then turn sentimental with the ensuing piano-led “Amor Vincit Omnia [Love Conquers All],” showcasing their wizard hands in power balladry. “Time Waits for No One” then builds on its romantic subtlety, with a spice of the customary guitar pyrotechnics.
Payne & Co. then takes the listener to a Gospel-inspired trip down memory lane with the nostalgic vibes of the ominous and rather dark “A Sorrow’s Crown,” whose keyboard acrobatics hark back to the Asia of old.
Then there is the stadium-worthy “Fourth of July” – brimming with enough proggy-AOR synthesizer-oriented sensibilities; certainly a cause for a fireworks-adorned celebration.
“Seasons Will Change” is definitely Payne’s pained voice and Norlander’s heat of the moment, exhibiting a sonic painting of what Dukes Of The Orient is all about.
On the final cut on the regular Euro release, the Dukes of lush harmonies and compelling melodies wave their last stroke with the ten-minute, epic “Give Another Reason” – Classical guitar intro, filmic soundscape, slow symphonic buildup from a distant past into a neon-lit motorway, exuding a whiff of more things to come from the sunny orient.
I love the Japan bonus track: “The Rebel”. At first glance, it sounds like a gentle, slow melodic proggy ballad, but it really has a tremendous essence, emotional, to enjoy turn-off-the-lights with a 12-year old scotch at hand.
Payne & Norlander have really made the right decision in coming up with a fresh collective, for this resulted in their ten-year-in-the-making album’s achieving both a sense of familiarity and a glaze of currency.
With the songs’ ornate structures and arrangements and pristine production, “Dukes Of The Orient” is undoubtedly a masterstroke wrought with passion and time by such experienced and masterful hands.
01. Brother In Arms
02. Strange Days
03. Amor Vincit Omnia
04. Time Waits For No One
05. A Sorrow’s Crown
06. Fourth Of July
07. Seasons Will Change
08. Give Another Reason
09. The Rebel (Japan Bonus Track)
John Payne – vocals, bass, guitars
Erik Norlander – keyboards
Jay Schellen – drums
Moni Scaria – guitars
Guthrie Govan – guitars
Bruce Bouillet – guitars
Molly Rogers – strings
thanks to Alfie Vera Mella