The addition of new vocalist Ted Leonard, late of the band Enchant, has brought Spock’s Beard back to its complex but consistently upbeat roots with Neal Morse. That sense of going full circle plays out with their former founding vocalist’s return for in a pair tracks on Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep, but there’s more to it than that.
Leonard takes over on the forthcoming project for former drummer-turned-frontman Nick D’Virgilio, whose own tenure succeeding Morse was marked by a turn toward darker, more straight-forward rock for Spock’s Beard — in keeping with his own melancholic vocal style. Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep, initially crowd-funded via Indigogo and now set for wide release via InsideOut Music on April 2, 2013, leaps out with a fizzy energy that those D’Virgilio-led albums rarely did — even as the band retains a patented sense of drama that goes back to their early days, as well.
Leonard is no Neal Morse clone, of course, any more than D’Virgilio was — and that gives Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep its own embryonic personality. Touring member Jimmy Keegan, now a permanent resident of the drum chair, also makes his presence known while completing the lineup with long-time members Alan Morse on guitar, Dave Meros on bass and Ryo Okumoto on keyboards.
Still, as before, Morse looms large over the project. He co-wrote “Afterthoughts,” the latest entry in the “Thoughts” series, with sibling Alan — as well as the 12-minute epic “Waiting for Me,” this album’s most direct (but far from the only) link to its initial sound. Their song-focused approach brought me back to 1996′s Beware of Darkness, at times, in the way they balanced hooks and labyrinthine songcraft.
John Boegehold, whose composing relationship with the band goes back to that album, continues to make important contributions, too. He adds the wonder-filled narrative “A Treasure Abandoned” as well as Spock’s knotty, Yes-inspired “Something Very Strange,” which was co-written with Alan Morse. Spock’s even retains its long-held predilection for Beatle-esque hooks on “Wish I Were Here.”
At the same time, the opener “Hiding Out” blends in several modern touches, “Submerged” suggests this group could move to even more dizzyingly anthematic heights, and the instrumental “Postcards from Perdition” provides an opportunity for Spock’s Beard to stretch — becoming a showcase for Okumoto.
The results on Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep add up to a throwback delight — perhaps the closest they’ve come thus far to rekindling the accessible, refined and yet inventive work of the Neal Morse era — but also something that suggests a path toward new successes. Not many bands could survive losing a second frontman. This new release tells me Spock’s Beard might just thrive.