The press release claim that Neal Morse is reinventing himself with Songs From November does rather overstate matters.
True, you’ll find no 20-minute epics, no odd times or fiendish polyrhythms, and not a single rock guitar or prog keyboard solo: this is Morse in ‘prog-rock‑lite’ mode. However, anyone familiar with his enviable career and considerable output will find little here that’s completely surprising.
Even discounting his first couple of pop/soft-rock-leaning solo albums or his Christian worship material, he has drawn on diverse genres numerous times with both Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic. _Songs From November _(apparently written almost in its entirety during November 2013) feels like time away from both prog and worship expectations. Instead, it exercises Neal’s skills as a tunesmith and multi‑instrumentalist, with music influenced more by 70s American singer-songwriters, Atlantic soul and country than by straight rock’n’roll. Horns, strings and gorgeous female backing vocals help provide depth and dynamics, bolstered by a rich and powerful production. Making a conscious break with the usual suspects, Neal handles the majority of the instruments himself, with only young drummer, Gabe Klein, a consistent presence otherwise.
Lyrically, Morse’s Creator isn’t completely absent, but there’s no preaching or proselytising going on, and there’s precious little here of an other-worldly or abstract bent,
rather songs that seem to speak of his personal experiences and his relationships.
Opener Whatever Days is a big, bouncy, groove-driven, horn-heavy backwards glance at his desultory wayward years as a struggling youth trying to get somewhere, delivered with a wry smile and metaphorical shrug. The touching Daddy’s Daughter is a paean to his role as a father, and overall it can be fun to play ‘Spot The Influence’. The heart-rending Tell Me Annabelle has a distinct touch of Billy Joel, and both the poignant When Things Slow Down and Wear The Chains – a bittersweet observation on youthful ideals versus harsh reality – could be destined for a Jackson Browne album. The elegant harmony vocals on the hooks of both Flowers In A Vase and My Time Of Dying are uncannily like Crosby, Stills and Nash; it’s impossible to imagine the resemblance is accidental.
Even in its occasional downbeat moments, this is a joyful and celebratory work, typified by the anthemic Song For The Free. Warm-hearted, involving and full of great tunes, Songs From November is a terrific album from a man who – whatever his musical proclivities – always deserves to be heard.
GARY MACKENZIE ** **