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Neal Morse: Songs From November

Album Review

The talented Mr Morse challenges expectations.

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 ** **

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