Neal Morse – Songs from November (2014)

Songs from November is the pop album fans of his Cover 2 Cover project surely wanted, the prog album his old Spock’s Beard followers have longed for and the gospel-inflected release for which the many who purchased Testimony inevitably hoped. The truth is, that’s Neal Morse. He’s different things to different people, different things on different days.

That’s always been the strength of his solo career, and likely one of the things (beyond an interest in pursuing his faith) that sparked Morse’s departure from the progressive-focused Spock’s Beard in the first place. That’s also the strength of Songs for November, just released by Inside Out. From song to song, moment to moment, even from verse to chorus, Morse has the ability to confound — and then brilliantly raise — expectations.

The jaunty “Whatever Days,” for instance, finds Morse in a favorite mode: casting a gimlet, Lennon-esque eye on the foibles of youth. “Heaven Smiled,” as you might expect, turns on a theme of hope — but inside classically infectious, sun-flecked hook. “Tell Me Annabelle” unfolds with a heartfelt complexity, while “Wear the Chains” tears into those who forget their core values via a string-driven pop anthem.

Not that Morse doesn’t continue to explore his craft here. For instance, there’s a ruminative, surprisingly CSN-influenced feel to “Flowers in the Vase,” and a whisper of Kansas in “My Time of Dying.” But, more often, Songs from November sounds like songs from any other time in Morse’s career, only mixed and matched into one all-encompassing solo triumph.

From “Song for the Free,” driven by its sweeping sense of redemption, to the snappy Liverpudlian crunch of the closing “Way of Love,” this is Neal Morse being Neal Morse. And that’s a very good thing.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.