Neal Morse Novemberpick-of-the-monthMorse has made one really fine, easily-accessible classic pop album here that should not only satisfy long-time fans but will win over the non-proggers out there as well.

Songs From November
Artist: Neal Morse
Radiant Records
11 tracks / 47:41

That amazingly prolific prince of prog – Neal Morse – has come up with a very personal solo album comprised of eleven (count 'em!) songs and coming in at a total time of just over 47 minutes! That's just a little longer than some individual songs on a typical Transatlantic project! But rest assured, that every track on Songs From November is a fully-realized, well-crafted composition, economically honed down to everything that makes for great pop music. Yes, I used the 'P' word - I'd use the term singer/songwriter, but that drives me crazy – won't he still be a singer and a songwriter on his next big-scale prog project? Anyway – that's a side issue and my own little pet-peeve. The point is, Morse has made one really fine, easily-accessible classic pop album here that should not only satisfy long-time fans but will win over the non-proggers out there as well.

It would be fair to say that Neal Morse – a natural vocal and stylistic chameleon – has always worn his musical influences on his sleeve. Of course, when you've got the right influences, that's a pretty nice sleeve! The album starts off with the energy-filled Billy Joel meets Chicago horn-fest, "Whatever Days," a great summer-time song recalling when "We laid around on Tuesday afternoons / little did we know what was comin' soon!" The gospelly "Heaven Smiled," follows directly, as Morse moves from radio pop to a classic blend of pop and soul, a la "A Little Help From My Friends," with the help of the seemingly omnipresent McCrarys providing perfect background vocals on the chorus. Already, the first two songs show a more relaxed Morse celebrating life's simple joys, mostly revolving around love and family and with a less overt, but still very present, gospel message.

Oh, yeah – that cool sleeve of his... how about Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young? "Flowers in a Vase" and "My Time of Dying" (the first song featuring Eric Gillette and both featuring Wil Morse sharing harmonies with Neal), practically have Woodstock, NY as their return address. The first song is an ode to being at home with someone you love, the second is a well-adjusted and thoughtful reflection on moving on to the next level...

"Love Shot an Arrow" is a super-ballad with many of the earmarks of Andy Pratt in his prime, with one of those great end-phrases that repeats and repeats into a powerful fade.

Jumping from place to place, you have "When Things Slow Down" - Morse's "Cat's in the Cradle" song about having all of the right intentions but not quite getting around to that family time you promised, as well as the inevitable 'my daughter's growing up' song, in this case a big, strong tearjerker ballad called, "Daddy's Daughter." Wedding band members – you've been warned....

If there's a CCM radio hit, that would be "Song For the Free," for not only being the most rhythmically generic song but also for containing the line, "If our God, He is for us, Who can stand against us?"

One of the most introspective songs is "Wear the Chains," a song about compromising your vision, whether artistic or idealistic. In one of the best lyrics on the album, Neal sings the line that sums up the song's poignant and bitter-sweet message: "The dreamers all got day jobs."

Of course, The Beatles are always somewhere in the mix of influences, giving that sleeve a bit of a British flair. "Tell Me Annabelle," and the album's Big Ending Track, "The Way of Love," with its horns and repeating final chorus, owe something to the Fab Four – and of course we would have missed that influence if it hadn't shown up, wouldn't we?
"There is a way you never see / there is a way it has to be / There is a way that is enough / There is a sacred state of mind / There is a light that always shines / You've got to find the way of love..." The piano-driven final song on the album leaves you with light and with love – and a killer hook, of course.

So here we have a rare treat – a Neal Morse album with eleven songs that average less than five minutes each! And where prog music sometimes majors on performance, with the basics of songwriting getting somewhat obscured, this album features wonderfully-structured songs – and the fine musicianship and over-all performance enhance the compositions. Neal's usual stunning work on keyboards, guitars, bass, percussion, drums and vocals shines throughout the project, Gabe Klein's drums on all tracks (but three) are Ringo-esque and just right, and the various guest vocalists and horn players round out the sound perfectly. Fine work, and highly recommended.

Bert Saraco


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