Year of Release: 2006
Label: Think Tank Media
Catalog Number: TTMD-1052
Total Time: 66:25:00
Erik Norlander is a very busy guy ... very busy with the thing he both loves and has to do to earn his daily bread: music. If he is not working on an album or, recently, a DVD for Lana Lane, he is busy with his band Rocket Scientists. And when he has some spare time ... he records a solo album! You can imagine the surprise when Erik announced a new solo studio album, shortly after the release of the Rocket Scientists' masterpiece Revolution Road. By the way ... at the same time, Lana Lane also released a new studio album ... featuring Erik ... I think we should test him for steroids or something...
OK, this studio album then. It is titled Hommage Symphonique and that gives away the idea behind it: it contains cover versions of songs that inspired Erik Norlander in his own music and/or life. Lana Lane is well-known for recording covers, but for Erik this is rather new. Despite that, he has delivered a very nice album. This starts with the artwork. It seems the Polish artist Jacek Yerka is the house artist for Think Tank Media, but you don't hear me complaining. I like his style very much and it fits the atmosphere the music brings to the room.
Among the musicians, cellist Mike Alvarez is noteworthy: he is a "hobby-musician" and released some work as demo. He is owner of the Erik Norlander and Lana Lane mailing list and sent some of his work to Erik and that got him on stage with Erik and now as guest musician on the album. Way to go! Don Schiff's brother David is also present and together with Jon Papenbrook and Eric Jorgensen, they form a nice horn section
Looking at the track listing, you see songs by (in order) Procol Harum, Rick Wakeman, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP), Jethro Tull, E.L.O., Chuck Mangione and King Crimson. Not the smallest bands. I have said it before and will say it again: recording covers is a bit risky, as many will compare them with the original versions and complain that either they are too much alike or too different. And when the covering artist adds his own touch, that is often up to the taste of the listener. In the case of Hommage Symphonique, I must say I am not familiar with most original versions.
Well, I am not going to discuss all tracks separately. After all, this review should encourage you to listen to the album yourself. Personally I love all the tracks. The songs are well arranged and performed. But there are a few that stand out. Like the Yes cover "Turn Of The Century." Besides the fact that Erik takes on the parts of Rick Wakeman for the second time, as well as covering Steve Howe's acoustic guitar parts on piano(!), I want to point out the fantastic vocals by Kelly Keeling! Wow, I knew he was a good singer, since he made the biggest impression on me of all the vocalists on Erik's Music Machine album. But until this, I only knew about his raspy, whiskey like rock voice; but on "Turn Of The Century," he almost sounds exactly like Jon Anderson!
A lot of attention has been given to the various musicians and their instruments. Already in the opening song, you hear a lot of brass. In fact, although Erik still roars with his keyboards, they are not as upfront as I expected. On the contrary, I feel the horns are more in the picture, so to speak. This makes this album stand out from all the previous work of Erik. I guess this is the progressive element in Erik's music: do not stick to what you know, but try out new and different things. And on the whole it works out really well.
One of the covered artists will make you say "Chuck who?" Chuck Mangione is
not exactly a musician from the progressive scene. He is a well-known jazz musician and plays, how fitting, the horn :-) But I can say Erik Norlander's version of "Children Of Sanchez (Overture)," which originally dates back from 1978, is one of the highlights of the album! Erik really turned it into a prog classic, with this fantastic, catchy, horn part, when you hear it, you'll say "Hey, I've heard that before!" A brave track to add, but it fits the album very well.
Nuff said ... let the music speak for itself. But in the end Hommage Symphonique is an excellent prog rock album, with not so standard music on it. I
can only say the choice of songs is very good, as they are not the most obvious ones and can be a reason to look up the originals. The album gives you an idea of the bands that influenced Erik in his own composing and recording and I think it is safe to say he could have been influenced by worse bands :-) This is a highly recommended album.
BTW, to clarify my score: The song "Children Of Sanchez (Overture)" is the reason why the album got 5 stars in stead of 4.5 ... this song really rocks, in a manner of speaking :-)
Distributed in the US by ProgRock Records; released in Japan by Avalon
Conquistador (4:10) / Sir Lancelot And The Black Knight (7:20) / Turn Of The Century (7:41) / Pirates (13:35) / Clasp (4:53) / King Of The Universe (7:13) / Children Of The Sanchez Overture (9:26) / Starless (12:04)
Erik Norlander - keyboards
Kelly Keeling - vocals
Gregg Bisonette - drums
Don Schiff - NS/Stick, bowed guitar, contrabass
Mark McCrite - guitars
David Schiff - woodwinds
Jon Papenbrook - trumpets, flugelhorns
Eric Jorgensen - trombones
Mike Alvarez - celli
Rocket Scientists - Earthbound (1993) (OOP)
Rocket Scientists - Brutal Architecture (1995)
Rocket Scientists - Earth Below And Sky Above (1998)
Rocket Scientists - Oblivion Days (1999)
Into The Sunset (2000)
Music Machine (2003)
Threshold - Special Edition (2004)
Stars Rain Down (2004)
Seas Of Orion (2004)
Rocket Scientists - Revolution Road (2006)
Hommage Symphonique (2006/2007)
Rocket Scientists - Looking Backward (2007)
The Galactic Collective (2010)
Live At St. Petersburg (DVD) (2006)
Genre: Progressive Rock