Also see: ProgDay '98 ~ NEARFest '99 ~ St. Louis Keyboard Extravaganza
From: "Dr. Robert L. La Duca" <>
Alaska is a cool symphonic rock duo from Scranton PA. They have a large symphonic sound despite their being only two players: John O'Hara, multi-keyboards and bass pedals, and Al Lewis, drums and vocals. He has a high range tenor not unlike a cross between Steve Perry and Jon Anderson. Their homepage is: . Alaska made its big "debut" this past year at ProgDay in North Carolina.
From: "Marc P. Guilbert" <>
Well, I for one would excercise caution an Alaska's self-titled debut. I got it based on the glowing reviews of their show at ProgDay '98, where they covered ELP's (OK, Copland's) Hoedown. I figured that automatically puts them in the cool category, especially when they ended the song with a sampled cow's "moo". Unfortunately, the CD wasn't what I expected. The vocals are irritating to my ears (which have forgiven MANY a bad vocalist in the name of prog) and the music mostly lacks the kind of forward momentum that the best keyboard led bands (Ars Nova, ELP, Anglagard, etc) have. Yes, the keys sound glorious in a '90's digital kind of way, but the net effect to my ears is plodding. My $0.02 worth... Or maybe I just need to listen to it 5 more times...
From: "Mark Fonda" <>
I just got the Alaska self-titled debut album and since the reviews have been mixed I thought I should put in my 2 cents. Others have commented on the vocals in this album being sub-par, but I was pleasantly surprised... they are not great, but not bad and only a little off-key in spots... and Al Lewis does sound just like Jon Anderson!! The strong suit of this album is the instrumentals... John O'Hara on Keyboards and Al Lewis playing everything else including drums, percussion and guitar... you would swear there are many more musicians. O'Hara's synthesizer, piano, Moog, Mellotron (great strings in 'Museum Dreams') are all excellent. There are some guest performers: Kent Wells (guitar) and Dave Fowler (Bass) on 'Anyman's Tomorrow' and a String Quartet w/Woodwinds on 'Mesa Extrana', but the rest is all just the duo.
I especially like the trumpet-synth on 'Two Shades of Grey'... very ELPish, but with a real continental flair... also some good acoustic guitar which provides a minstrel-like atmosphere. There is a lot of diversity here, especially tracks 5 & 6 'Bardanes' and 'Reason to Wonder' which are droning bass synth and percussion with some vocoder and very melancholy vocals. 'Tiananmen Square' gets back down to business with a militaristic, symphonic, mostly-instrumental piece reminiscent of Andy Pickford, except for some sparse vocals by Lewis. I also like 'Wellsbridge' which combines some harpsichord effects, bass synth and flute-Mellotron with the Yes-like vocals. Most of the tracks start out with 1-2 minutes of instrumentals before any vocals kick in. If you want to make comparisons, I'd peg Alaska as a cross between Yes, ELP and Renaissance, but with some 90's effects such as vocoder and drum machine. After hearing this, I'm really looking forward to seeing them at NEARFest.
I think the track tienamann square is pretty deep. Strong soloing, (if thats still he right term for a duet, hard to do otherwise if your the only other player than the drummer), and meaningful lyrics. Keyboardist is strong in my opinion, 3 distinict parts typically going on simultaneously. I don't mean just chord comping with the left hand either, he has got duel lines running pretty frequently, while playing the bass parts with his feet, (and not just the root fifth bounce basics) it is on the mello side, on most of the tracks (to me), but some of the hooks are decent. The singer has almost a dead ringer voice for Jon Anderson, though I'm not implying he's as good. I mean the tone, not the melody. I'll agree he was a little off key in parts at NEARfest, but I didn't notice this on the CD, (I'll have to listen again for this) in summmary not one of my all time favorites or anything, but clearly has redeeming social value, (political messages are clear and thought out, though a little too liberal for me). Just my two cents.
I too gave ALASKA a fair shot and found the effort coming up short. Yes, the vocals sound like Jon Anderson but something is lacking, could be that the lyrics often seem forced, are pompous as hell, and the whole shebang is boring. And the voice sounds like a impersonator of Jon Anderson, not the real McCoy.