In the early ’90s Geoff Downes resurrected a new version of the ’80s ‘supergroup’ Asia, and recruited singer/bass player John Payne. With a rotating line-up throughout the 90s and early 2000’s Downes & Payne recorded a number of album’s under the Asia banner. I have these, and quite like them, though being a John Wetton fan, I felt a bit bad for Payne, in a way, but he proved to be a fantastic singer and songwriter; he certainly has a distinctive voice. Asia released albums, This era of Asia didn’t have the hits or notoriety that compared to the first 2 albums, but there are plenty of great songs. When Downes left his partnership with Payne to rejoin the original Asia line-up, Payne was allowed to continue on as ‘Asia featuring John Payne’. On another note, I saw Asia in Trenton, NJ, at the Classic Rock Festival in 2002 [I went mainly to see Uriah Heep]. I clearly recall getting on the hotel elevator with a few other Heep fans, and people, and John was on it as well. Everyone nodded, said Hi, and someone asked John which band he was with [I knew], he politely replied that he was with Asia, and everyone just carried on. In retrospect, I wish I was more familiar with that Asia at the time, and had something to say. He [and Asia, which also featured Chris Slade on drums then] put on a good show; it was a fun weekend….
Anyway, fast-forward to last year and I started listening to those Asia albums with Payne and filling in the gaps in my collection. I never got the first Dukes Of The Orient album, but when I heard the first single / video from the band’s second album – “The Monitors”, I thought it was a great song, classic aor, and had me looking forward to this. Dukes Of The Orient is the natural successor to Payne’s version of Asia [dropping the name out of respect for Wetton and to get a fresh start].
Freakshow is almost what I expected, but a better. First, Payne’s vocals seem to get better with age, and he’s easily recognizable. If you liked the albums by Asia that Payne was on, you will love this! It’s progressive, a bit more melodic, and well produced. Very much a keyboard heavy album, but plenty of different sounds, from various synths, to Hammond organ, to piano – Erik Norlander [ Lana Lane, Last In Line] is pretty creative from track to track, plus there’s plenty of acoustic & electric guitar, saxophone, harmonies. The songs here are most impressive, and there’s so much sound-wise to get into that this album is pretty likeable off the bat, and there’s plenty to go back to dig further into. Aside from the “The Monitors” – which would be a huge hit in previous decades [dig the guitar solo as well], fave tracks include the epic piece “Man of Machine”, as well as “A Quest For Knowledge” [this one reminds me of Yes], “When Ravens Cry”, the instrumental “The Great Brass Steam Engine”, and closing ballad “Until Then” – a pretty timely song that Payne delivers so well.
I am really looking forward to getting this in the car [apparently only available on CD], as there’s so much to get in to on this 10 track album. A very feel-good album, and I dare say should appeal to classic prog fans [aside from Asia], fans of Yes and Supertramp [a good bit of saxophone on here, and piano here]. Out on Frontiers Music August 7. Aside from John Payne and Erik Norlander, Dukes of The Orient includes Alex Garcia [guitar], Frank Klepacki [drums], and Eric Tewalt [saxophone].