Neal Morse, Life & Times
Genre: Progressive, Rock, Singer-Songwriter
Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 4.0
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3.89

From the first instrumental swell of his new solo album, Life & Times, Neal Morse continues to demonstrate his musical versatility and prowess as a singer, songwriter, and composer. As with most, if not all, of his work, the quality of studio engineering and production is superb, and there is no denying the immersive quality of Life & Times.

Perusing through the first verse of “Livin' Lightly,” this album’s theme becomes apparent, that of careful but not so critical examination and observation of one’s journey through life. Morse, an accomplished, virtuoso musician with a history of involvement with many progressive rock artists including Spock's Beard, Transatlantic, and Flying Colors to name a few, further ventures outwards from his prog roots into a more intimate environment of soundscapes and instrumentation throughout the album, which often comes across with a tasteful Sixties and Seventies, pop rock vibe. Morse respectably demonstrates the caliber of his songwriting through deliberate restraint across the album, especially on the more somber of tracks such as, "He Died at Home."

On such a song, other less-experienced songwriters or overly ambitious musicians may have aimed for a "home run" such as featuring a building orchestral crescendo and release of great emotional tension into a big theatrical finish, but Morse took things in a different direction. Embracing the practice of minimalism, he kept the song's instrumentation relatively simple, placing great emphasis on his voice and supportive rhythmic acoustic guitar. The resulting song does not fall into the familiar singer-songwriter, sad-song, trap of redundancy and repetition, but instead illustrates a grief-stricken, emotional storyline that concludes the first half of Life & Times.

Progressive rock icon Neal Morse takes stock of his career and progress in the music industry throughout his new exploratory album Life and Times.

Although the A-side features a few stand-outs, the second half of the album feels somewhat reserved, almost safely so, in a manner that could be argued that Morse is sticking to what he knows and does best—which is certainly a good thing. Given that his solo releases offer an opportunity to take risks and explore new possibilities, the first half of this very album is the more exploratory part of the two. However, the second half of the album delivers considerably in its slice-of-life portraits full of reflection and contemplation. With that in mind, Life & Times remains a substantial work of art worthy of several listens. Offering several cathartic moments and earworm qualities from start to finish, listeners will subconsciously find themselves humming the melodies of "Manchester" or "Selfie in the Square" long after the record is finished. This is artful storytelling delivered by a master craftsman.

Life & Times is set for release on February 16, 2018, by Radiant Records via Metal Blade Records/SONY on all digital outlets, as well as CD and vinyl. Pre-orders are now available on Radiant Records' website.

Stand-out tracks:
"Livin' Lightly"
"He Died at Home"