Life & Times presents a dozen well-crafted pop/classic rock/slightly country tunes that are so well-crafted, so melodic, and so well-produced that Morse could fit easily into the James Taylor / Billy Joel category.
Life & Times
Neal Morse www.nealmorse.com
Radiant Records / Metal Blade Records
12 tracks / 51:40
Proving that he can indeed write meaningful songs with a running time of under fifteen minutes, the amazingly-prolific Neal Morse goes singer/songwriter on his latest solo effort, Life & Times. In fact, there’s not an epic prog track on the entire album - and while that might make some of you nervous there’s no cause for concern, because Life & Times presents a dozen well-crafted pop/classic rock/slightly country tunes that are so well-crafted, so melodic, and so well-produced that Morse could fit easily into the James Taylor / Billy Joel category.
“I just thought I’d write a song and try my best to keep it simple,” he sings on “Livin’ Lightly,” the album’s lead-off song. Well, if you know anything about Neal Morse, you know that he won’t keep it too simple – but he’s certainly mastered the art of writing quality songs with singable hooks and enough sophistication to keep things interesting, even when the subject is the more personal side of life. “Good Love is On the Way” is sort of a Nashville “Penny Lane,” with the barber shop replaced by a coffee bar and the pretty nurse and fireman replaced by a pretty barista and a ‘corny’ cashier working on his man-bun. Yeah, it’s a love story. And so are some of the other songs, not the least of which is his own. “You and Me and Everything” is the story of Neal and his wife – a strong rock ballad beautifully written and performed, with a George Martin-like string accompaniment added perfectly to the mix.
Speaking about The Beatles (remember the mention of “Penny Lane?”), Morse has learned his lessons well from the masters of pop and uses the afore-mentioned strings sparingly but in just the right spots, and even includes a French Horn solo in the pleasant ‘missing you’ song, “Selfie in the Square.” The production throughout is masterly, clean, and well thought-out – a joy to listen to.
Neal has some fun with the Caribbean-inspired “Wave on the Ocean” and “Manchester,” a song which actually manages to contain its own anecdote – you’ll understand when you hear it.
Certainly, the dramatic center-piece of the album is the powerful “He Died at Home,” the true story of a soldier who came home a physical survivor only to lose the inner battle in his soul. This song about a soldier’s confusion, shame, and ultimate end is also very much about the anguish, pain, and love of the soldier’s mother – the other victim of war, too often overlooked. Acoustic guitar, a string quartet, and a mournful French horn accompany Morse’s perfect, emotional vocal.
“Old Alabama” and “If I Only Had A Day” close out the album in with the most country/pop sounds in the collection. “Old Alabama” is a duet with a fantastic vocal by Julie Harrison and some pedal-steel that would make the track welcome on any contemporary country station. “If I Only Had a Day” reflects on the value of our opportunities as our lives get shorter and shorter with each day. It’s a fine song – once again ripe for country-pop airplay, but maybe a bit morose for an album closer – the polar opposite of the album’s first track, “Livin’ Lightly.” Hopefully, you have more than a day to live, so you might not want to pass up Life & Times, a fine addition to Neal Morse’s impressive catalog.
- Bert Saraco www.facebook.com/express.image