by Rodrigo Concha
Before we proceed to the review of Neal Morse’s newest work, Songs from November, there are a few disclaimers I feel I should throw at you.
First and foremost, I am as big of a Neal Morse fanboy as they come. I love everything he’s done throughout his career, including his work with the multiple bands he’s participated in as well as his solo work. He was one of the of the first prog artists I was introduced to so, needless to say, whenever I get my hands on new Neal material I rejoice like a little kid at Christmas.
Secondly, you should know that Songs from November is not Neal’s typical cup of tea. In Songs from November, Neal displays his more casual songwriter talents. So, when you get to listen to Songs and you approach it expecting his usual proggy self, you will be disappointed. I suggest that you take this album for what it is and to come to appreciate Neal’s gift as a versatile musician. Rest assured, once we come to understand this, Neal does not disappoint at all. I won’t write on each song individually but I want to touch on the highlights of the album that I deemed appropriate for the review.
So without further ado, let’s begin with the groovy opening song: “Whatever Days.” I say groovy because that is exactly what it is. It’s one of those feel-good songs to listen to when you’re having a good day and feel confident about life. “Days” mixes keyboards and brass instruments in a deliciously cool way.
Next comes a sweet ballad called “Heaven Smiled”, displaying Neal’s usual spiritual side. This is one of those songs I could see him perform at a local Christian church, being backed up by a lovely female choir. If you’re into that sort of thing, then get ready to raise your hands in praise to Neal’s talent as you sing along.
Skipping a little bit ahead comes “Love Shot an Arrow”, which also includes a backing choir and most prominently shows Neal’s voice throughout the song. The song’s opening words are, I believe, very true to anyone who has felt similarly: “There’s a pain that I feel, it’s like I’m bleeding. But it’s beautiful like when the wind cries. There’s an ecstasy rush, excruciating. And it’s there when I look into your eyes.” Love shot an arrow into my heart, a pain like salvation torn me apart. Love shot an arrow into my heart. Quite simple and straightforward writing, but pretty deep once you really take the lyrics to heart and reflect. Also included in the song is a strings mid-section which builds smoothly and perfectly to the song’s climax as it eases back into the chorus.
“Tell me Annabelle” has a Beatles-esque mood to it as it opens with an eerie theme and with Neal’s voice. Throughout, the song plays back and forth, it seems, with the mood, swinging back and forth from that eerie feeling to a more fulfilling tone. We also get to be delighted by some solid bass work which accompanies us throughout the song’s varying moods which, in the end conclude perfectly with a mix of the two.
More towards the end of the album we run into “Daddy’s Daughter”, which is a lovely anthem to Neal’s daughter Jayda. This is a perfect song that Neal could perhaps perform at Jayda’s sweet sixteen. It is personal and sweet. Sure it can be pretty corny, but considering how much of a miracle Jayda has been to Neal’s eyes (see Testimony 2’s “Jayda”), no one can blame the guy. If you have or ever have a daughter, I am sure you will relate to Neal’s feelings so simply put in this beautiful song.
In conclusion, Neal closes the album at a high with “The Way of Love.” The song simply keeps building upwards and reaches the album’s finale with quite a climax. In my opinion, “The Way of Love” portrays Neal’s message as a musician. As the world of prog knows, Neal has focused on a more spiritual spectrum when it comes to his songwriting, and I think this song summarizes that message, making a biblical reference to the parable of the pearl of great price: “There is a pearl without a price, there is way of sacrifice. You have to find the way of love.”
Altogether, Neal does not disappoint with his songwriting work, but quite frankly I hope he comes out more prog epics and theme albums in the near future, since that is what I like from him the most. Don’t get me wrong though, Songs from November is definitely a delight to listen to.
About the author:
Proudly born and raised in Mexico City. Currently studying Information Technology at Brigham Young University where I also do some IT work for my job. I thoroughly enjoy many, many things in life, 3 in particular: music, soccer, and food. I’m a huge aficionado of all 3 of them. Favorite soccer team/player is Barcelona/Messi. Favorite food is BY FAR mexican. Favorite prog albums are The Whirlwind by Transatlantic, Stardust We Are by The Flower Kings, Snow by Spock’s Beard, Lover’s End by Moon Safari, and Octavarium by Dream Theater. I also enjoy melodic/symphonic metal, especially Angra, Rhapsody, Symphony X, and Avantasia. Best concerts I’ve ever been to are the Neal Morse Band and The Flower Kings joint concert with a Transatlantic encore, Muse and Avantasia.