|Musical Style: Progressive Rock||Produced By: Neal Morse|
|Record Label: Radiant||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2012||Artist Website: Neal Morse|
|Tracks: 6||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 61:20|
Neal Morse, as if we need to remind you, is one of the leading players within the burgeoning progressive rock scene. Momentum, his latest solo release from the summer of 2012? Besides being aptly entitled with its undeniable musical force and impetus, Momentum follows on the heals of a very solid body of work from the artist, including six CDs with Spock’s Beard, six more with the super group Transatlantic and one with Flying Colors. It is his solo albums, however, in which Morse truly shines. Putting out his debut solo release Testimony in 2003, he followed up with five others over the next eight years: One (2004), Question Mark (2005), Sola Scriptura (2007), Lifeline (2008) and Testimony Two (2011).
Where that “musical force and impetus” comes into play can be found in the Momentum material: Showcasing the artfully done and creative progressiveness the artist is best known but also throwing in some tasteful non-progressive moments along the way. Best embodying this is the albums classy progressive based title track, the even more progressive (and heavier) “Thoughts Part 5” and six part thirty minute mega progressive epic “World Without End”. In between you will also encounter the haunting acoustic flavorings to “Smoke And Mirrors”, melody driven hard rocker “Weathering Sky” and upbeat keyboard based “Freak”.
The upshot is six equally good songs that bring the merit to separate themselves from the rest but also combining to form a complementary whole in the process. Momentum, as a result, flows with perfect continuity, starting with the five “shorter” songs before moving on to the “epic” at the end. All the while we are treated to the twists and turns one expects from the progressive genre: Slower portions interwoven with those taking a faster approach; quieter interludes and others playing a more forceful role; and instrumental moments galore in which the top flight musicianship here shines. The upshot is more than adequate variety - Morse, as always, sidesteps the pitfall of predictability that can plague those playing progressive music - to maintain your interest with repeat play.
In terms of comparisons, being that Momentum is in the sixty minute range it allows for more casual of a listen in comparison to some of the artists prior releases. It reminds somewhat of Question Mark in this capacity and to a lesser degree Lifeline, albeit equal to the former and better than the latter (at least my opinion). One, Sola Scriptura and Testimony Two might be masterpieces but push the limit at close to eighty minutes each (or more) in how easily one can digest them in a single sitting.
Momentum continues to showcase the “core trio” performing on past solo albums from the artist, with Morse joined by drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Randy George. Morse remains a top performer with his clean and pure vocal style (always fitting the musical mood at hand, whether calmer or more abrupt) while also proving quite the virtuoso with his work on keyboards (ranging from highlighting touches to screaming Hammond-B) and guitar (adding more than enough to entice those into the metal and hard rock genres). George helps anchor the low end with his trenchant bass lines (his work stands out best on “Thoughts Part 5”) while Portnoy remains steady behind the drum kit (his articulate drum rolls help “Momentum” stand out that much more).
Also similar to past Morse solo releases, you will find guest appearances aplenty. It starts with the talented Paul Gilbert, who lends a shredding solo to the albums title track, but also includes Adson Sodré (of the artists touring band), adeptly cutting loose throughout “World Without End”. Keyboardist Bill Hubauer lends his talents on clarinet, flute, guitars and keyboards as well.
No, Momentum might not be a concept album, unlike many of Morse’s previous solo outings, but does seem to revolve around the theme of “if God has given you some momentum, don’t stop! Keep going forward through the changes” (as taken from the albums liner notes). Lyrics, otherwise, are thought provoking in speaking of faith, perseverance and never giving up. I like how one reviewer sums things in this area: “Morse explores his Christian faith with honesty and gentleness”.
Momentum adds up to another top notch solo release from Neal Morse. The artist, if anything, knows what he does best and plays to his strengths in the process, which is creating delectable progressive music while also taking the occasional foray into the non-progressive. It works due to not only the quality of the songwriting but equally notable production and musicianship.
Track By Track
The album opens to the classy progressiveness of its title track. The swirling keyboards and rolling drums that get things going are soon accompanied by heavy set guitars and organ. Soon descending into the trenchant depths that are its verses, “Momentum” soon picks up initiative upon procuring what is nothing less than an uplifting chorus. An extensive instrumental section finds Paul Gilbert ripping on lead guitar. Lyric snippet:
Now the wind is gone and it’s got you down
But He is still in the midst of your mayday
Crying out don’t stop, don’t’ be afraid
Keep on pressing through the changes
The momentum that’s moved you will not stop now
You’ve got some new momentum
You better keep going
Tomorrow soon will be your yesterday
The progressive mindset is maintained on “Thoughts Part 5”. This one takes the heavier direction, with pounding guitars, offbeat keyboards and screaming organ leading the way; throw in some Yes influenced vocal melodies and the upshot is quite the discordant environs. Where the song succeeds, and this is where Morse shows his genius, can be found in its multiple instrumental excursions: The first features radiant guitar leads over a bass guitar, second carried by organ and rhythm guitar and third playing up a jazzy and fusion based feel.
“Smoke And Mirrors” takes an emotional acoustic based direction. Lush and tranquil in highlighting the gentleness of Morse’s voice, the song almost gives rise to a Kansas “Dust In The Wind” feel (listen closely and the same type of abundant melody prevails). Haunting keyboards brush up the backdrop. Lyric snippet:
Now we are here among the blind
We seek to know the One beyond all space and time
Reality is sweet for sure
For all this confusion there is only one cure
He’s planted in our souls
Life beyond the years
We will not be victims of Smoke and Mirrors
Disillusioned souls causing bloody tears
The truth masquerading with Smoke and Mirrors
The emphasis on melody continues with “Weathering Sky”. What we have here is a heavier and more upbeat rocking piece, with periodic edgy guitars and profound keyboards helping add to what amounts quite the ennobled scene. Chorus is majestically done in approaching commercial in capacity. This one should be playing on FM radio stations everywhere.
Keyboards play a leading role on “Freak”, but in a pleasing and complementary sense. Tempo is spirited – almost frenetic – as the song exudes an inspiring feel, reflected in quite the cinematic chorus backed by orchestration. This one proves you can be progressive without also descending into multiple time and tempo changes and elongated track lengths. Lyric snippet:
My tongue is the pen and I feel inspired unusually today
My bed at the bridge kept me warm all night til the sky turned cold and grey
At noon on the corner I shout out words they can’t ignore
But nobody sees they’re too busy making money, kids and war
But I am a freak
The kind you trust too little
I am the one you call “the other”
You can’t take home to mother
I am the angst
The ultimate outside
And I’m not welcome where the work is
Not in your home or in your churches…
Thirty-three minute epic “World Without End” breaks down into six different “parts”. Similar to past Neal Morse epics, think of it as several songs strung together that also logically work together throughout.
Part 1, “Introduction”, is instrumental. After slowly fading in over its first minute and a half, the song turns into an upbeat rocker with the staunch guitar riffs, powering drums and brazen soloing to match.
“Never Pass Away”, the second, takes a mid-paced melodic hard rock approach with a decided tempo highlighted by organ and emanating chorus interwoven with lush vocal melodies. Interestingly, a time change is made for the final verse to a slower piano driven direction. Lyric snippet:
I’m in control of having no control
Drudgery days I had to let them go
And seek to find
Some peace in my mind
And not look behind
But there’s a road in the blazing sun
There’s a flow that I can’t outrun
I’ve got to mind my life my way
To a world that will never pass away
A heavier rocking direction is taken on the third, “Losing Your Soul”, as quite the focused guitar riffs and soloing ranging from the blues based to fleet carries things ahead. Adding to the raucous scene is some fitting distortion added to Morse’s vocals.
“The Mystery” follows with its relaxed and more ballad-like tempo as drums and keyboards lead the way. Chorus gives rise to every bit a laid back feel while instrumentally things trend towards the bluesy side of things. Lyric snippet:
Stagnant love of former generations
Built on pretense and conditional love
Your selfish soul feeds on past revelation
Holding the mystery in history’s glove
With obvious lack of heartfelt care
Stripped of all feeling emotionally bare
You find yourself just standing there
Trying to explain the mystery
After twenty minutes we reach “Some Kind Of Yesterday”, an even slower number upheld by piano, keyboards and moving vocal performance from Morse. Ballad is the overall feel at hand in proving the logical extension to the previous piece “The Mystery”.
A grooved up and jazzed up instrumental that segues from bass guitar solos, organ and vigorous tempo to orchestration takes us to the final in the series, “Never Pass Away (Reprise)”. Another stilly done piece, this one flows to tranquil length to piano in staying true to the ballad formula at hand. The upshot is a fitting grand finale to another momentous epic from the artist. Lyric snippet:
So the days in the desert sand
Makes the way for the happy man
By the blood of his greatest friend
Comes the one who has life again
‘Cause there’s a road in the blazing sun
There’s a truth that I can’t outrun
He led me out from the smoke and ash
With His love that’ll never pass away
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Momentum” (6:25), “Thoughts Part 5” (7:51), “Smoke And Mirrors” (4:38), “Weathering Sky” (4:15), “Freak” (4:29), “World Without End” (33:39)
Neal Morse - Lead Vocals, Guitars & Keyboards
Randy George - Bass
Mike Portnoy - Drums
Paul Gilbert - Guitars
Adson Sodré – Guitars
Bill Hubauer – Clarinet, Flute, Guitars & Keyboards