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Neal Morse (1999)

Neal Morse - Neal Morse Tracklisting:

  1. Living Out Loud (4:31)
  2. Lost Cause (5:01)
  3. Landslide (5:27)
  4. That Which Doesn't Kill Me (4:42)
  5. Everything is Wrong (5:02)
  6. Nowhere Fast (3:45)
  7. Emma (3:16)
  8. A Whole Nother Trip
    1. Bomb That Can't Explode (9:02)
    2. Mr. Upside Down (4:40)
    3. The Man Who Would Be King (4:22)
    4. It's Alright (5:52)
Neal Morse - Lead vocals, synth, piano, acoustic, electric guitars, bass and drums
Nick D'Virgilio - Drums (2-8), backing vocals

Glen Caruba - Percussion (10)
Chris Carmichael - Strings (8,10)
Dean Resturn - Sampled kicks and snares (1,3)

Review by Stephanie Sollow

Courtesy of Progressive World

If you like Spock's Beard's mellower moments, and are a fan of tuneful yet cynical music, then you are sure to like Neal Morse's solo release. Though I'm sure the time really has passed for this comparison, Morse has a dry style like the late Kevin Gilbert. This music that is deep in its simplicity. By that I mean sparse, clear arrangements, a small compliment of instruments, and honest feelings. No pompousness, no posing, no over orchestration for the sake of it. This is music that speaks on the human level - we've been there, we've done that, we've felt this.

And here's a comparison that Morse probably won't appreciate, but I mean it in the kindest possible way - his vocal delivery on "Lost Cause" is very much like "Weird" Al Yankovich. Of course, there's that same dry sense of humour that Yankovich has. You could almost imagine that this is a parody of some other song sang in earnest, that Morse has twisted to his own ends. That isn't to suggest that the song sounds like a rip off of something out there, but has that keen, self-effacing quality that parodies often take. Of course, Morse get's serious on the next track, the bittersweet, tension filled "Landslide." This is a great track and one of my favourites. Although I wish the lyrics for this one had been included (some are, some aren't), Morse sings clearly enough that there's no trouble figuring them out. Like Gilbert, Morse has a voice that makes the emotion in the delivery clear and very effective.

Overall this album is less progressive rock than it is intelligent pop (though that phrase often seems to be an oxymoron) - rarely does he stray into the same territory he does with Spock's Beard, despite the presence of Nick D'Virgilio on drum, though you cannot deny the connection to the band.. Glenn Caruba handles percussion on one track ("A Whole 'Nother Trip"), and Chris Carmichael provides strings for "Emma" and "...'Nother Trip." Otherwise, its Morse - guitar, piano, etc.

"Emma" is another one of those stand out tracks, and one that cuts right to the heart - a heartfelt reflection on a tragic life. The strings, the acoustic guitar, and the gentle vocals all add to the melancholy of this tune. Another stellar track on this stellar album.

"Nowhere Fast" is a melding of Gin Blossoms, Goo Goo Dolls (and others of the same ilk) and 60's pop - tuneful, poppy, not quite Beach Boys and not quite the Beatles - a radio hit if there was one. And very, very wry.

"A Whole 'Nother Trip" is the closest to the quirky keyboard sound of Spock's Beard that Morse gets. "'Nother Trip" is one, a trip through a variety of quirky textures and tones, funky and fun, and a chance for the band to 'kick out the jams' as they say. Well, that's just the first part of "Bomb That Can't Explode," that moves into that expansiveness that SB has, that wide open epic feel.

This "trip" is too diverse to try to summarize or take a verbal snapshot of, so I'll just tell you that this is great, and varied, mixing elements like chugging guitars, whistling, vocal effects, audio effects, flamenco guitar and whatnot... the final movement has a mid to latter day Pink Floyd feel about it (Dark Side of The Moon is one thing that came to mind).

This is a great album that doesn't suffer from the over-indulgence that a lot of solo albums do. There's genuine warmth here, both in his vocals and the arrangements - the sense that Morse respects both his built in audience (SB fans) and new fans that may come to him from this album is evident throughout.

Perhaps the weakest track, but not by much, is "Everything Is Wrong." Even so, this is a very strong contender of my favourite album of the year, and comes recommended to Spock's Beard fans and non fans alike.

Review by Ed Sander

Courtesy of The Dutch Progressive Rock Page

Most of you will know that Neal Morse is the brain behind Spock's Beard, writing most of the songs, doing lead vocals and playing keyboards, organ and acoustic guitar to boot. Those of you who have seen 'The Beard' live know that Neal is an enormous entertainer and marvellous front man. Now Neal has released his first untitled solo CD. Another Beardy person who appears on the CD is drummer Nick D'Virgilio, who plays on all but the first track.

Neal described his albums as follows: 'You can expect to hear a wide variety of styles. There's piano oriented pop songs, guitar heavy ones like Tom Petty or something, some Spock's sounding stuff....all in all there's 7 regular songs and one 23:00 long progressive thing called "A Whole Nother Trip." Actually I just said that for people who are listening to the album and haven't heard Spock's Beard....for Spock's Beard fans it won't be a surprise! It's a really cool album, if I do say so myself, and I hope people dig it.'

Living Out Loud has an emphasis on the piano and acoustic guitar. It sounds a bit like a cross between 'Out on The Edge' and 'Can't Get it Wrong' from the last Spock's Beard album. Nice sing-along tune. Lost Cause has a melody line which sounds exactly like Waste Away. Like that track it's a very joyful and energetic song, despite the lyrics ('I used to be a poor man, now I'm really broke ... I'm a loser, I'm a failure'). This track also appeared on the CD Single of Spock's Beard's Skin. Of the first 7 tracks, this is probably the most 'Beardy' one.

Landslide is a quiet song with acoustic guitar and brush drums. It's got a very nice vocal melody. Love it. The intro of That Which Doesn't Kill You sounds a bit like the Rolling Stones. It's a rather straightforward rock song in the vein of Crowded House, but a nice one ! Everything is Wrong is a whole different thing. It features a very sad piano melody and sad lyrics.

Nowhere Fast is another joyful pop song which reminds me a bit of Mary Jane of the album by Arena's guitarist's Urbane album. Emma is another lovely mid-tempo song with acoustic guitar, strings and lovely lyrics about a childhood friendship.

So far, it's been mostly straightforward rock songs and ballads in the style of Tom Petty/Crowded House. Great stuff nevertheless, and a nice diversion from the more quirky Beard style. But for those of you who fear a full non-prog album, read on !

Now it's time for the big epic A Whole Nother Trip. It starts with a very Beardy tune called Bomb That Can't Explode which also features a cello. The first instrumental part reminds me a lot of Gibberish and also features some growling guitar bits. After two and a half minutes it goes into a rather The Time Has Come-like part. Whistles, drum loop effects and an organ and guitar solo lead us to a closing section with a different, acoustic arrangement and melody which suddenly crosses into ... Mr. Upside Down ... headbanging time ! Typical Beard goes Hard Rock track, not unlike Hurt. Great drive ! A very simple but effective one-note guitar riff forms the basis to this track. Lot's of weird computer-effects and snippets of speech form the background. The Man that Would be King .... Latin time ! The cello melody of the intro of A Whole Nother Trip returns with Flamenco like rhythms and percussion. This part also features a Spanish guitar solo. I bet you can't sit still when this is playing. It's Alright .... Beatles time ! A slow ballad with vocal overdubs. The intro sounded slightly 'Strawberry Fields'-like. Later on there's a lot of atmospheric vocal overdubs as if you're listening to The Eagles or Crosby Stills Young & Nash. Wonderfully peaceful ending to a marvellous epic and a great album.

This album is bound to become one of my favourites of 1999. It has the Spock's Beard sound we have come to know and love, but it goes beyond that to various musical genres and sounds a whole lot more adventurous than Day for Night. This album ones again proves who's the brain behind Spock's Beard !


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