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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Erik Norlander

Hommage Symphonique

Review by Gary Hill

I know there are those out there who would consider that a CD of covers is not worthy of being a real release. Well, I’m here to tell you that if you have that attitude you might miss out on what could well be the best prog disc of the year. Mind you, 2007 has just now begun, so we’ll have to see what else is released this year, but I’m betting this one will be a strong contender. From the liner notes (although you can probably figure it out from just listening to the CD – if the title didn’t give it away) Norlander has covered some of his favorite songs. The pure love of the source material really shows through and makes the performances that much better.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Conquistador
Originally a Procol Harum number, this one works quite well with the symphonic rock approach. Mind you, it isn’t a huge stretch from where the song began, but there are more layers and sounds here than on the original. Always a proto-prog sort of composition, this is bouncy and quite cool. The retro sounding synth solo is a great touch. I can’t imagine a better way to start off the disc, but still this album is full of strong material.
Sir Lancelot and the Black Knight
Tackling a Rick Wakeman piece has to be a bit intimidating for a keyboardist. If that’s the case, you can’t tell it by Norlander’s killer rendition of this number. In fact, Norlander shows himself quite capable of keeping up with the keyboard King in fine fashion. They play this one fairly close to the original from my way of hearing it. It’s another killer number on a disc that has no shortage of them.
Turn of the Century
Here Norlander turns his attention to another track that originally featured Rick Wakeman, Yes’ “Turn of the Century.” The arrangement here has a more classically textured basis. The vocals are incredibly like Jon Anderson’s. Yes fanatic that I am, I absolutely love this rendition. I’d have to say that it’s my favorite piece on the disc.
Pirates
This time the sights are turned onto Emerson Lake and Palmer. This starts off rather mysterious and dramatic. The group puts in a strong rendition of this killer tune. I’d have to say that this rendition is stronger than the original, in the opinion of this reviewer at least.
Clasp
Originally a Jethro Tull song, this one is less like the original version that just about anything else on the disc. Mind you, a good part of that comes about from the vocals. Either way, though, this is a strong prog rock piece and performed with style and passion on this release. The keys on this one actually sound a bit like Keith Emerson at times.
Ocean Break Up/King of the Universe
I find it interesting that in the liner notes Erik Norlander says that, “Most of the songs are from bands of the progressive rock genre.” He lists the one exception as a Chuck Mangione tune – next in line on the disc. This tells me that (since these songs are from Electric Light Orchestra) he considers ELO to be a prog rock band. I only find that noteworthy because I’m guessing a lot of people (based on their radio hits) would not consider them to be such. I personally have always thought ELO were an exceptionally cool prog band. It’s good to know someone else includes them in that genre. In any event, it’s also good to see someone covering these more obscure ELO tunes. While the Beatlesque leanings, present on pretty much anything Jeff Lynne ever wrote, can be heard here, this is overall a great progressive rock jam done exceptionally well here. It’s another highlight of the disc. Once again, it’s really hard to tell that these are not the original vocals.
Children of Sanchez Orchestra
While this was originally a Chuck Mangione number that fit squalrly in the jazz realm, here it comes across as a dramatic progressive rock jam with moments that remind me of ELP. I can’t really comment a lot on this number (at least the original version) because I’ve never heard the source material. Still, this piece of music is quite a cool one and a strong addition to a stellar disc.
Starless
Norlander and company close out the set with this smoking Red era King Crimson track. In some ways I’ve always considered this to be the ultimate progressive rock song. When I say that, what I mean is, if you ever wanted to point to one song that truly represents the best of all that progressive rock is (and I know, that’s an incredibly daunting task) this one would be my choice. Norlander and company play it pretty true to form – and pulling off this sound is a powerful achievement in itself. This is another instance where the vocals really could pass for the original if you don’t listen too carefully. They do revise this one with turning the instrumental excursion late in the track into a total jazz jam. It works quite well.
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