The Neal Morse Band (now NMB) might pretend to be innocent but this is dangerously good music!
Innocence & Danger
Artist: NMB (Neal Morse Band)
CD 1: 8 tracks / 48:44
CD 2: 50:52
The Neal Morse Band is now officially NMB, but the band has changed in name only, as Innocence & Danger clearly demonstrates. In the spirit of The Grand Experiment (the band’s first studio project), this new album is a collection of songs that are not related to one another - no connective tissue in terms of theme or storyline. In many ways, this is an easier-to-digest format than the huge (but wonderfully huge) double-disc concept projects that the band has tackled in recent years. Another major difference this time is that Neal came into the sessions with essentially a blank slate, allowing more input from bandmates Randy George, Eric Gillette, Bill Hubauer, and Mike Portnoy. A truly collaborative effort, Innocence & Danger is a well textured album featuring the expected stunning instrumental work by all of the above. Morse’s keyboard and guitar work shine, Gillette’s solos dazzle, Portnoy’s drumming is, well - Portnoy! and Randy George in particular, turns in the strongest, most musically solid and articulate performance of his career, IMHO.
Writing about the songs on a prog album is like trying to describe the taste of a banana to an alien from another planet, but I’ll attempt to touch on some generalities as well as a few specifics - but you get the idea: you have to hear this music to really understand. A new thing on this project is the quality and variety of the vocals. There are strong individual moments from Morse, Gillette, Hubauer, and Portnoy, who also collectively display some inspired moments of vocal harmony. Neal, of course, sings with his heart on his sleeve - his voice is a multi-level showcase of emotion and rock and roll grit. Eric Gillette manages, chameleon-like, to take over from where Neal leaves off - especially in a song like “Your Place in the Sun,” where the trade-off is nearly seamless. Gillette manages to segue from Morse’s vocal tone into his own, slightly clearer texture and seemingly limitless high-end! Hubauer’s tone is more distinctly his own, with a nice vibrato and interestingly clipped end-phrases, but also with the ability to disappear into a harmonic blend with Morse, Gillette, and Portnoy. Speaking of Mike, his welcome solo vocal moments are more frequent on this project, showing that he’s a strong vocal force to contend with, worthy of lead-singer status in any band. Individually, these guys are all strong singers, who get to share solo moments on songs like “Do it All Again” and the aforementioned “Your Place in the Sun.”
Okay, so they can sing. What about the instrumental side of things? Fans of the past work of NMB will not be disappointed. The combination of pop-tinged classic rock and prog is still a bench-mark of Neal and friends as they concoct ear-pleasing, riff-ridden epics and mini-epics ranging anywhere from a little over three minutes (Neal’s beautiful acoustic guitar interlude, “Emergence”) to the slightly over 31 minute epic “Beyond the Years,” which closes disc 2! So, yes - there’s something for everyone here. “Do it All Again” is the perfect start, a nearly nine minute odyssey with tight instrumental work, and an anthemic chorus, all bathed in typically rich, textured prog sounds, including a very ‘Gothic’ church-like organ bathing the production near the end. “Bird on a Wire” follows, introduced by an impossibly-fast guitar/keyboard/bass/drum passage, just to remind us that this is, after all, a prog band. This track is a good example of everything mentioned above - including George’s phenomenal bass work. The strong instrumental break is all that’s right about prog and rock and roll.
The more moderately-paced “Your Place in The Sun” is an ‘up’ shuffle of encouragement leading into the Todd Rundgren-esque (with maybe a hint of Hall & Oates) “Another Story to Tell” - really sweet guitar soloing here. We seamlessly drift into a grand, cathedral organ-like intro to “The Way it Had to Be,” a dreamy, slow-paced vibe permeating this thoughtful seven minute-plus song with such insightful lyrics as “It might have been the maybe that crept into my mind ...” The song is a beautiful, soulful showcase for some outstanding guitar work from Gillette and atmospheric organ playing by Hubauer.
“Emergence” is three minutes and twelve seconds of acoustic guitar bliss. A gorgeous instrumental interlude. This leads into some Crosby, Stills & Nash inspired vocal work on “Not Afraid Pt. 1” which starts out with an acoustic accompaniment but expands gloriously to a full band treatment. Closing the first disc is one of the big surprises of the project - a cover version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The band creates a pure prog opening for the song before bringing the song into its more recognizable form - but absolutely taking it to church - prog-church, anyway. You’ve heard many versions of this Paul Simon classic, but never as powerfully done as this. I think Simon would have to be pleased with this powerful rendition. No doubt this will get a standing ovation at every live performance.
Disc 2 contains a pair of huge prog epics. “Not Afraid Pt 2” starts the proceedings with all of the hoped for machine-gun riffs, tempo changes and passionate vocals that a prog fan could hope for. It starts with piano and organ, soon joined by a driving bass riff, synth and guitar. After a classic prog passage, things get more hard-edged. About 14 minutes in, things go from rock to a more ethereal, jazzy mode. Drum fans will get deep into this.
After an orchestral intro, “Beyond the Years” starts its half-hour musical journey. Hubauer, Neal, and Eric get their vocal moments and then the full band takes over. At 7:25 some fiercely dissonant, fiery guitar work comes into play leading into impressive guitar/keyboard soloing. A signature Morse vocal fugue moment shows up at 12:50. I’ll resort to my notes for the next few reactions....
13:30 - Portnoy is a freight train!
After fifteen minutes: organ brings in a powerful theme - gets very bluesy. Big chord changes. Heavy organ, synth and guitar soloing.
21:05 - three minutes of madness as drums and bass go nuts!
Yes, there is an astounding passage between Randy George and Mike Portnoy that has to be heard to be understood. Following that amazing moment, the guitars and synth join in and bring the song back to an eventual orchestral ending that I think you’ll agree is ‘so heavy.’
The Neal Morse Band (now NMB) is Neal Morse (vocals, keyboards and guitars), Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals), Randy George (bass), Bill Hubauer (keyboards, vocals) and Eric Gillette (guitars, vocals). Innocence & Danger is self-produced with input and ‘creative suggestions’ by Rich Mauser, who also mixed the project.
Innocence & Danger delivers the level of musical chops that we’ve come to expect from Morse, Portnoy, George, Gillette and Hubauer with the added benefit of having the entire band contributing ideas to the project. A dangerously good plan!
4 1/2 tocks
- Bert Saraco
To see Bert’s concert photography (including pictures of NMB in action in NYC) please visit: