One Track Mind: Neal Morse, "Momentum" (2012)

Former Spock’s Beard frontman Neal Morse doesn’t just return to solo mainstream prog rock on the title track from his new album, he dives headlong into the genre’s most familiar sounds: There’s a fleet opening riff straight out Styx, a thumping bass-organ signature that recalls early Yes, the swirling classically inspired counterpoints of ELP.

Yet, there’s nothing derivative about “Momentum,” thanks to the unabashedly joyful figure Morse cuts at the song’s center. And it’s not just the lyric, which incorporates so much of the sun-filled optimism Morse has radiated since turning toward faith music over the last decade. Morse’s vocal style itself represents chance taking here of a different sort: Where so many of today’s neo-proggers have only embraced the darker, more mystery-filled elements of the music, Morse will allow himself to sing at times with a delirious, early-rock abandon.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Neal Morse stopped by to talk about his brand of spiritual prog, an emotional reunion with Spock's Beard, and his undying love for all things Beatles.]

Paul Gilbert then takes over for one of his classic finger-joint-popping solos. The ex-Mr. Big guitarist played in the Beatles cover band Yellow Matter Custard with Morse and “Momentum” drummer Mike Portnoy, and if you listen closely enough, there’s some Lennon in Morse’s phrasing, too — even if the sentiment is all McCartney.

This title track, coming in at a relatively lithe four-minutes, is part of a forthcoming more song-oriented release that’s due on September 10, 2012 in Europe via InsideOut/Century Media; and on September 11, 2012 in North America through Radiant/Metal Blade Records. There are five other short tracks, along with a final 30-plus-minute epic.

Bassist Randy George joined Portnoy for what has become their sixth date with Morse, following both Testimony and last year’s Testimony 2, as well as Sola Scriptura, Lifeline, and others.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.