Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted (sorry about dead links), but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments & he'll respond & also look for him on youtube. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog) (last update 2/24/2019)

February 16, 2012

Lana Lane ~ El Dorado Hotel

(Click on heading to visit official website.)
Stye: progressive
Label: Think Tank Media
Year: 2012
Home: California

Members: Lana Lane ~ vocals
Erik Norlander ~ keyboards/guitars/bass/programming

Guests: John Payne ~ b. vocals/mandolin
Guthrie Govan, Bruce Bouillet, Freddy DeMarco, Neil Citron ~ guitars
Mark McCrite ~ guitars/bass/mandola/programming/hand claps/b. vocals
Don Schiff ~ stick bass/hand claps
Mark Matthews ~ bass
Jay Schellen ~ drums

In high school my musical tastes made me a total retro geek. Besides the Top 40 bands on the grunge dominated scene I tended to find comfort within a couple genres: classic jazz, blues & 70's prog, all of them feeding into each other as the prog rockers wanted to be jazzbos & the blues-rooted jazzbos inspired the prog rockers. I went nuts over the multiple layers of Yes, decring Pink Floyd who weren't doing enough. I eventually moved away from the prog-rock genre as I felt the movement to be dead with the dawn of the 80's & in the 90's whatever scene did exist was too far underground for my reach & what was above ground I'd felt I'd exhausted or was just not interested in. Unbeknowest to me the scene was still alive & much larger than expected, but so many of the older bands were out of print &/or somewhat obscure, while contemporaries such as Radiohead, Dream Theater, Asia & Marillion were too far from what I defined as prog proper. I've since come to have an appreciation for these groups & how they were keeping a movement alive by molding it to new musical trends & influences. But, at heart I've remained a child of the 70's template: the wandering staircase guitar solos, elaborate keyboard hurricane interludes, multi-part songs, odd dynamic rhythms, symphonic wind tunnels & esoteric mysterious lyrics. Though, as all prog fans know, sometimes this could all get disasterously carried away into the land of uninspired directionless rambling. In the last decade not just have there been discoveries & reissues of long lost forgotten bands but current musicians have worked on bringing back what made the 70's scene so exciting & stripping away that which came later making it stale & pretentious & over-commercialized. Vocalist LL is one of the keepers of the traditional flame bringing prog-rock into a new century pulling together all that has come before while still tapping into all that modern musical trends & technology can offer to heighten the experience. There's quite a handful of folks out there keeping prog alive, particularly in the metal world that has largely adopted the form as its own, but most are instrumentalists with few nameable solo vocalists outside of Yes's Jon Anderson. LL is thus largely playing her own game, particulary as a woman vocalist, & she's playing with bursts of fire tamed & controlled with mesmerizing creativity. Her name may not be familiar to many readers but LL is no new face on the block. She's been on the scene for at least 15 years, 10 studio albums & toured extensively with the Rocket Scientists & The Galactic Collective. After a five year gap since her last solo album LL returns with the unassumingly titled El Dorado Hotel. As always, she's accompanied by keyboardist/songwriter & husband Erik Norlander, the king of prog-rock piano if Jordan Rudess ever decides to vacate his popularly chosen title. Filling in the holes is an array of friends including the entire line-up of Norlander's other gig Asia Featuring John Payne including former guitarist Guthrie Goven, plus Mark Matthews & Freddy DeMarco from Norlander's Galactive Collective which also includes LL, while Mark McCrite, Neil Citron & Don Schiff go back to LL's 1995 debut. In this tapestry called El Dorado Hotel don't look for allusions to Hotel California ... except that both are welcoming the listener to another world, though in the Eagles case it was a single hotel while for LL it's a world in ten epics. In LL's world are thick crunchy chords of guitars & keyboards that might today be called prog-metal but once upon a time could be heard with abandon in Yes ... lacing together a musical tour-de-force that doesn't fall into the trap of overly technical solos that drag down the energy & focus ... while Norlander makes the keyboard sound like everything but a keyboard & sometimes his illusion makes one question if he's actually keeping a full orchestra in his studio that he's forgotten to give linear note credit to ... highlighted by comforting vocals that go from a whisper to the cries of Athena giving courage as a battle of feelings, emotions & passing moments is waged ... with gothic shadows haunting the turns of the soldiers. LL doesn't necessarily have the most immediately recognizable voice. It's not crooked like Greg Lake nor does it dominate or try to cut through the music like Jon Anderson, but instead glides over & through the music riding it like waves ... accentuating it. Part of the hidden magic of El Dorado Hotel is how it's a journey of interlaced ideas & images ... the droplets of one song spawning the ocean of the next. The El Dorado Hotel is not a particular place but mystical metaphor for the past, present & future. The addictive rock opener "A Dream Full Of Fire", that will have one hitting repeat to hear it again & again forgetting that it's not the only song to be heard, sets the journey in motion with: "A hot summer rain washes away/all the tears of yesterday/& when it is done/the afterglow/you'll finally know/which way to go". Knowing which way to go after moving away from yesterday's pain - this is a journey of beginnings. As the traveller takes to the road maybe we'll meet again after years gone by (i.e "Maybe We'll Meet Again") in our current travels (i.e. "El Dorado"). But, don't assume it's a movement from place to place as it could just as likely be from hopes & dreams to differing hopes & dreams, for cannot the traveller "hear El Dorado calling you/like a dream out of the blue" (from "El Dorado"), as it's hopes & dreams that makes things possible in the end (i.e. "Darkness Falls"). Yet, within this there's also to be found fear, sorrow & loneliness (i.e. "Darkness Falls", "Hotels"). But, only at the lowest point can the traveller finally truly move forward as "we've got a new life/& we're leavin' today" (from "Believe") bringing celebration at the closing of the day(i.e "Life Of The Party"). Yet, don't be surprised as what happens after a party is a new day laced with fading memories of the night before (i.e. "Gone Are The Days") & uninvited ghosts that call out the traveller's name (i.e "Moon God"). Suddenly the traveller has gone from moving forward to being stuck in the past ... its this return to the beginning, to the "tears of yesterday" & "afterglow", with which comes the revelation that there is "a place in the sun at the end of the world/you think about he days & nights that brought you to this place". Everything comes back to the start because "you can be anyone cause you are free" ("Exile"). So, however far one travels the secret in the end is not where we've gone or where we're going but where we want to go. The ebb & flow of the songs on El Dorado Hotel is nearly magical. It's the long lost art of programming & not the modern artless world of singles. Some, maybe even LL & Norlander, might say that this is no concept album & there's no story. But, if laying songs together in a particular order can make something appear that isn't intended to be there ... that's called musical magic, & maybe then there really isn't a story after all, it's just a dream ... just another lonely hotel. There's repetition in the ideas of the songs but not in the music itself & one will be dragged away into a cornucopia of musical ideas that somehow remain uncluttered, but yet they also require more than a casual listen to get the full power of the instrumentation & arrangements. Heavy metal breaks with flights of Yanni-esque ambiance sit aside each other comfortably & there should be no surprise if a gypsy melody comes floating along (i.e. "A Dream Full Of Fire") or a spanish guitar (i.e. "El Dorado"), while even synthesized vocals don't sound out of place (i.e. "Believe") though they are a bit discerning. The art of lengthy songs, or those over 8 minutes, even by such stalwerts as Yes, has always been a tricky game as many languish just as they attempt to get off the ground. LL & company soar instantly at take-off. Some prog albums are solo after solo or jerkily cut from one section to another but these songs are finely crafted with graceful sequeways where the sequeways vanish into the mix. There's nothing worse than a prog-rock epic that sounds like it was numerous songs stuck together. These songs flow so much together that under a distracted listen one might think it's all one grand symphonic piece. Which, honestly, might be the biggest problem with the release. Prog rock has never been meant for casual listening. This is a crafted album. But, do people have the attention span any more to give it anything but a one ear listen? Will anyone be able to hear the music as it moves from the eye of the storm to the winds themselves to safety far away? Will anyone care that LL & Norlander are a rare breed of craftsman in a modern age when electronics make even the craftsman lazy? Will anyone hear this as more than just a collection of genre-expanding songs? Check them out & come to your own decision ... it's such a lovely place, a lovely face ...


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