Band: Neal Morse
Band Website: www.nealmorse.com
Label: Radiant Records/Metal Blade
Label Website: www.radiantrecords.com
Release Date: 2008
Some people are just gifted creatively. They seem to be brimming with musical ideas that never stop. Neal Morse is like that. With Spock’s Beard he helped create 10 CDs, then so far as a solo artist he’s put out 6 CDs not counting his work with Transatlantic. THAT’S prolific! Once again Neal has put together the trio that has proven to communicate so well together. That’s Morse (vocals, guitars, keyboards), Mike Portnoy (drums) and Randy George (bass). For Lifeline he’s also included a few others including Paul Bielatowicz (2nd guitar solo on “Fly High”), Carl Groves (background vocals), Johnathon Wills (strings), Jim Hoke (saxophone) and Ivory Leonard and Danielle Spencer (background vocals).
Right off the top let me say I’m a huge fan of Neal’s work, while with Spock’s Beard and his solo material. To my ears he represents a classic progressive rock infused with a modern sound and sensibility. The support material makes the point that Lifeline breaks with Neal’s recent tradition of writing concept recordings. Instead here we have a collection of seven tracks that hearken back sonically to different musical periods. The title track “Lifeline” [13:28] certainly has the same feel as Neal’s work on the Beard’s V. But on this disc we also have some shorter, mellower, acoustic pieces that might have made it on his first two solo releases where Morse was writing in a more commercial style. Fact is if you’ve been around the prog scene at all over the past decade, you’ll have heard Morse’s style. It’s grand in scope, panoramic, majestic; his progressive rock style is build on writing melodic passages that are linked together with massive, dramatic instrumental segments supported by the choir and string keyboards. You either love it or hate it. You either think it’s a prog cliché or you feel it’s everything prog is supposed to be, and once again I come down on the latter side of that equation. One of the things Morse has tried to incorporate over the past few releases, is a somewhat heavier style and that comes across here on Lifeline in the track “Leviathan” [6:04] which places the emphasis on heavier guitars and keyboards but is also produced in a dense fashion that emphasizes the darkness of the track. For fans of epics, Morse doesn’t disappoint with the track “So Many Roads” [28:43] built up from six parts all trading themes in classicNeal Morse style. There are few who are better at this progressive rock style. Some have suggested that Morse is repeating himself, either musically or lyrically but I find this kind of claim truly disingenuous. That’s like saying Mozart was repeating himself when in fact he was writing in a style that featured his sound-style. The idea that every new disc from an artist needs to reinvent themselves is one of those artificial measurements that once again ignores what’s actually created.
When you put Lifeline on the player it’s instantly recognizable and I think that’s a good thing. Fans who’ve been following Morse’s career will know what to expect and won’t hesitate to add this disc to their collection. For me, it’s got everything I love about prog on display and get’s my highest recommendation.