neal morse momentum copy copyA more concise Neal Morse album, Momentum still delivers the goods without skimping, with 5 hefty tunes and one Epic...

Neal Morse
Label: Radiant Records
Time: 6 tracks / 61:17 minutes

What's this?! A Neal Morse album on one disc? I double-checked my package.... no disc two, no 'making-of' DVD, no bonus disc... So here we have Momentum – a Neal Morse solo project on one disc but still a little over an hour of signature Neal Morse music, performed by the man himself and his reliable partners-in-prog, Mike Portnoy on drums and Randy George on bass (listen to what this trio accomplished on the recent Cover 2 Cover project and you'll understand what a formidable team they are). As if these three amigos weren't enough, they're joined on various tracks by the likes of guitar monsters Paul Gilbert and Adson Sodré, multi-instrumentalist Bill Hubauer (clarinet, flute, guitar and additional keys on "The Mystery"), Chris Carmichael on strings, and Eric Gillette, Wil Morse, and the great Rick Altizer adding to the vocal palette.

Like Morse's Lifeline album, Momentum is a collection of distinct tunes and not a concept piece – a fact that closure-freaks will appreciate when committing themselves to a listen. Still an epic work by most standards, the first five tracks are each over four minutes long, with the wonderfully wry "Thoughts Part 5" clocking in at almost eight. Lest you think that Morse has been slumming, the last song, "World Without End," is a six-part opus just shy of 34 minutes!

Freed up from the necessary continuity of a heavy concept-oriented work, Morse gets to explore different musical ideas and styles on Momentum. There are definitely moments that will delight metal fans here, like the tandem bass/guitar riff and nasty, distorted vocal on Part III of "World Without End" ('Losing Your Soul'). The six-part song soars right from the beginning with an almost six minute instrumental section featuring tasty guitar work from Adson, the usual rapid-fire keyboard work from Morse, explosive drumming from Portnoy, and hard-hitting bass lines from Randy George, who contributes a particularly blistering bass solo at about twenty-four minutes into the piece.

The album starts with the title track bursting through the speakers with Morse's furious synth lines leading the charge and Gilbert's brilliant guitar work adding fire to the proceedings. "You've got some new momentum," Morse sings, "Better keep on going – tomorrow soon will be your yesterday." The inspiration continues - "Go forward always knowing, our God is going to lead us all the way." The message is motivational and inspirational, similar to "Lifeline."

"Thoughts Part 5" could almost be the counterpart of Lifeline's "Leviathan," bringing a bit of humor to the project – although the point here is more well-defined, as Morse seems to be poking fun at slef-important, "eloquating" thinkers ("now I don't think anything at all I'll say nothing and I hope you'll think I'm deep"). The track starts with elaborate vocal harmonies and ends with a wonderfully restrained vamp featuring a treat for Portnoy fans, as we get to hear him do some nice stick work on the rim of his snare.

The influence of Kerry Livgren and Kansas can be heard in the layers of one of the best of the songs on Momentum: "Smoke and Mirrors." The song's acoustic setting and introspective feel provides a less cluttered sound-scape closer to an A-B-A song structure, and a more clearly defined melodic style. The lyrics, co-written with Neal by Chris Thompson, eloquently speak of our limitations, seeing our Creator as through a glass darkly...
     "Now we are here – among the blind
      we seek to know The One beyond all space and time
      Reality Is sweet for sure – For all this confusion there is only one cure
      He's planted in our souls, Life beyond the years
      ...and we shall be like Him, beyond smoke and mirrors."

"Weathering Sky" proves that prog can rock – great riff, rocking guitar work, nice raw sound.

Another highlight of Momentum is the unusual, "Freak," which starts off with staccato strings punctuating the song's rhythmic feel. Again, a hooky, memorable melody is sung by Morse – a catchy, accessible tune with a lyrical theme that certainly has been done before, but seldom as well as this. "I am a freak – a riddle," he sings, continuing later, "I might be a savior or a brother, or someone's long-lost mother. ....maybe an angel's come between us – who knows, I might be Jesus."

Certainly, fans of Morse's work will not be disappointed with Momentum and the less intimidating format might be just what the first-timer needs as an introduction to the sometimes-ponderous world of progressive rock. All of the players on Momentum are at the top of their games and the musicianship is first-class, with Morse doing his usual stunning vocal, guitar, and keyboard work. There's enough variety here to satisfy the hard-rocker as well as those that look for a more sophisticated prog experience. Lyrically, Morse's spiritual inclinations are openly displayed on the table, artfully stated and without cliché or a pointed finger.

With a last track to serve as a primer for the uninitiated, Momentum can serve as a doorway to Morse's other huge progressive rock projects. On the other hand, there are hints on Momentum of a more economical approach that might lead to some interesting Kansas-like territory, where Morse's Epic Novel approach might be condensed into a more memorable short story form. Who knows? The boy's got momentum, though - that's for sure – and so does this album, headed your way the second week of September - and there will be a Special Edition with a bonus DVD! Watch for it.


- Bert Saraco

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