RATINGS: A = must own B = buy it C= average D = yawn F = puke

Neal Morse - Life & Times
Radiant Records


Rating: A

It is understandable for fans of progressive music hearing the name Neal Morse to immediately call to mind albums filled with magnificent, lavishly orchestrated, cinematic compositions deeply interwoven with complex rhythms and lyrics that tell a story over the course of several tracks. Much of what Morse has been involved with recently has been in this genre under the name The Neal Morse Band, and it’s amazing stuff! Albums such as The Grand Experiment and Alive Again have brightly displayed the power of progressive music and kept it fresh and relevant. The band’s recorded performance at a previous Morsefest is downright inspiring. The Similitude Of A Dream, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, is THE strongest progressive album in decades.

However, don’t confuse the fairly recently minted Neal Morse Band with Neal Morse, the solo artist. Both entities are supremely talented, but their musical directions are not necessarily connected. As a solo artist, Morse is free to write less complex yet equally beautiful pieces that are narrower in scope and seek to reach a more traditional place in your mind and heart.

Morse’s newest release, Life & Times, is a solo effort that is significantly different from the recent releases from the band that bears his name. Life & Times is a wonderful walk through relatable expressions of familiar human experiences. It is an album that examines more of the beauty and pain of the commonplace than the orchestral power present in progressive music. The pieces are in the four to five minute range and are elegantly toned down to give the listener the ability to relax and take in each groove at face value.

Many of the songs on Life & Times were written while Morse was traveling through Europe. As a result, these songs deal with Morse’s impressions as a traveler in European cities. Songs like “Selfie In The Square” and “Manchester” present the listener with the mixed emotions of enjoying time in a foreign land while also missing loved ones at home. Morse even goes so far as to sing about his error in geography when attempting to describe the city of Manchester, England. That’s got to be a first!

Life & Times is filled with the kind of music you listen to when you want to take it easy. This is not to say that all of the pieces on the album are light and upbeat. Morse is a passionate man who sings about life, and not everything in life is positive. In what will undoubtedly be the signature track on the album, “He Died at Home”, Morse masterfully describes the struggles and terrors present in a soldier who eventually loses his fight with the demons in his mind after returning from military service in Afghanistan. It’s a heart wrenching account of a terrible situation quietly endured in secret by far too many families. Morse’s songwriting is simply brilliant; it is a deeply powerful track.

Life & Times is a wonderfully crafted album that strongly reminds me of another of my favorite Morse albums, Songs From November. If you enjoyed that album you will enjoy this one as well. It is a treat to hear a talented songwriter be able to reach the heights of progressive complexity with other talented band members and still be able to return to a format as a solo artist that strips down the tracks to an easy listening style. I really like this album. I think you will as well.

Track List:
1. Livin’ Lightly
2. Good Love Is On The Way
3. Joanna
4. Selfie In The Square
5. He Died At Home
6. She’s Changed Her Mind
7. Wave On The Ocean
8. You And Me And Everything
9. Manchester
10. Lay Low
11. Old Alabama
12. If I Only Had A Day

By Roy Rahl