Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review - Neal Morse - Momentum

In two weeks world class drummer Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theatre) is scheduled to stop by and records on your next album. There’s just one little problem: you have only one song written and it’s short. Time to panic? Not if you’re Neal Morse (ex-Spock’s Beard), master musician, composer, song crafter and all-around nice guy. Instead you double down and churn out an hour of music. And not just filler but solid, melodic songs that stand among the best of your long career. I’m doing my best not to be jealous.

While the album first fell flat on my ears it didn’t take long for the hooks to take hold. Both “Momentum” and “Weathering Sky” are high octane positive rockers. Though Morse is known for his progressive rock roots both of these songs are free from any “weirdness” such that they should find a tidy home with fans of classic rock. “Smoke and Mirrors” reflects acoustic guitars, electronic piano and strings, building from a gentle verse section to an impassioned, dramatic crescendo before backing off again. Fans of Neal’s more adventurous side will take heart with yet another installment in his “Thoughts” series, this one being part five. Layered a cappella sections via Gentle Giant battle with disjointed rhythms, creative sounds, scorching Hammond organs and invigorating extended instrumental sections. I’ll take this over a cuppa coffee any day! Stretching himself a bit, Morse presents “Freak”, an upbeat song built around a staccato string part, building big into a full orchestra before dropping off to accentuate the punch line.

And of course no Neal Morse album would be complete without at least one gigantic song. This time out its “World Without End” which runs a modest (by Morse standards) thirty three minutes. While I enjoy this song as it’s pumping through my brain the sheer scope of it has preventing the melodies from sinking in. I have little doubt that this is only temporary. I will say that this song gives Portnoy and bassist Randy George many chances to stretch out and dig deep into their immense talents and I’m hearing lots of sections that make me perk up my ears like a schnauzer hearing a can opener.

Neal Morse titled the album Momentum and a more appropriate title cannot be found. While his solo career had a rusty start as he found his footing every album since then has consistently knocked it out of the park. I keep waiting for the man to slack off and release a dud but to my immense pleasure he’s on a roll and I, for one, am happy to come along for the ride.

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