February 19, 2018 Dukes of the Orient – Dukes of the Orient (Album Review)
John Payne was the lead vocalist and bass player of Asia from 1991 to 2006, replacing Vocalist/Bassist John Wetton (originally of King Crimson). 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 (due to colon cancer), 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 rechristened 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 with John Payne.
Scheduled to be unleashed on Friday, February 23, 2018 on Frontiers Music s.r.l., Dukes of the Orient’s debut, 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 ad-lib 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.
Dukes of the Orient then takes the listener to a Gospel-inspired trip down memory lane with the nostalgic vibes of the ominous and rather dark, Gothic shade of “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 Progressive Pop/Rock synthesizer-oriented sensibilities; certainly a cause for a fireworks-adorned celebration.
Second-to-the-last track, “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. Finally, the Dukes of lush harmonies and compelling melodies wave their last stroke with the ten-minute, rustic, Progressive-Classical 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. Such an apt closer.
Payne and 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. While it may be regarded as the follow-up to Asia’s Silent Nation in an alternate world, Dukes of the Orient soars high in shining colors in its own glistening feathers. CrypticRock gives this self-titled debut 4 out of 5 stars.
Purchase Dukes of the Orient: