The story goes that when prolific prog-rock singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Neal Morse booked studio time with his regular drummer Mike Portnoy, he didn’t have much written—just one song and some bits and pieces. Taking it on faith, Morse wrote the remainder of this CD over the two weeks before the sessions started. From that build-up, one might expect the material to be sub-standard. Not the case here! In fact, the album that resulted, Momentum, is one of the most coherent, catchy and compelling entries in Morse’s already-impressive solo catalog.
“We’ve got some new momentum … we better keep it going,” Morse sings in the title track that leads off this CD, and boy does he ever! Morse delivered the goods in this new batch of songs, played with impressive energy and passion by Portnoy (always a powerful presence behind the drums), bassist Randy George and Morse handling all keyboards, guitars and vocals (except for a few guest appearances).
Guitars actually play a more prominent role on Momentum than they have on Morse’s previous solo releases such as Testimony Part 2 and Lifeline, which were very keyboard-heavy. Here Morse’s athletic power chords and emotive lead lines take center stage, and it’s a nice change (perhaps his focus on the keyboards in his new supergroup Flying Colors led him to stretch out more on the six-strings this time around).
As much as this album is about looking forward with new energy, it also finds Morse looking back, nowhere more so than on “Thoughts Part 5”, a sequel, as its title indicates to the “Thoughts” parts he did on albums with his former band Spock’s Beard. As on many of those chapters, this one features acapella vocals in the style of one of Morse’s biggest influences, Gentle Giant. The strings-driven “Freak” recalls some of the themes of his final album with Spock’s Beard, Snow.
Guest appearances of note include a blistering solo by Mr. Big guitarist Paul Gilbert on the title track, and one from Morse’s new touring guitarist Adson Sodr on “World Without End”, the 33-minute-plus prog-rock epic that brings the CD to its rousing conclusion.
The production is impeccable, of course—Morse is a studio master, expertly weaving orchestration, innovative keyboard work, multilayered vocals, his wall of guitars, and the prominent Portnoy/George rhythm section, yeilding six of the best new songs you’re likely to hear this year.
Every time I review a Morse release, I mention his spirituality. Yes, he is a Christian artist; yes, those themes are present here, but not as blatantly as on previous solo releases. Call it uplifting, call it uplifting, call it whatever you like. I call it good music—melodic, creative, ambitious, smart, and it rocks—by one of the most talented men making music today.Buy Neal Morse’s Momentum on Amazon