The Neal Morse Band, also now known as NMB, traverse a full spectrum of styles on Innocence & Danger.
Release Date: 27th August 2021
Label: Inside Out Music
Format: Digital / 2CD / CD+DVD / 3LP + 2CD Boxset
After two albums of deep and lyrically adventurous concept albums, we can relax with Neal Morse. And his band, now shortened to NMB although let’s face it, Morse is the arch instigator. The band format allows him (and his collaborators) to throw their ideas into the mix and offers an alternative to the more spiritual direction he errs toward on his solo outings.
So, an unrelated set of ten songs spread across two CDs and vinyl allows the quintet – add Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Eric Gillette and Bill Hubauer to the teamsheet – to get to grips with the shorter songwriting format and offer something more substantial for those needing to satisfy their progressive fix.
Talk of the level of collaboration and showcasing everyone at different points on Innocence & Danger is spot on. From the shorter song-based pieces to the two ‘prog style’ epics (which it must have been hard to rein in) Neal, Bill, Mike, Randy and Eric all take turns featuring before stepping back into line. Musically, they’re a unit who as tight as…a very tight thing. Eric Gillette in particular is starting to stand out as an MVP. While Portnoy is never far away from a rattling drum fill and Randy George’s bass is a constant rumbling presence, and the keyboard runs and vocal parts of Bill Hubauer glisten, it’s the Gillette searing guitar and in particular, the vocal contribution that starts to provide the high points of the broad church on Innocence & Danger.
His vocal in the chorus on the two opening tracks plus exquisite and fiery soloing on both – a strong opening before the songwriter-y side kicks in. Skirting the boundaries of A/MOR and tipping a hat to some of the more mainstream influences that Morse is not averse to, there are some terrific harmonies, a few nice Floyd-y touches decorate The Way It Had To Be; those hanging keyboard chords and bluesy guitar doodling.
Ticking another box, the acoustic side is visited courtesy of the solo guitar piece, Emergence, that segues into. a personal highlight – Not Afraid Pt 1. Recalling the format of the gorgeous June by Spock’s Beard, once again with a killer hook, harmonies that rival Crosby, Stills & Nash and an irresistible chorus. One that builds from a simple beginning to include keyboard textures and a simple tambourine rhythm before Randy adds some bass depth. Portnoy takes a lead vocal and steps back to the drum kit and the song takes flight. My money’s on seeing the band lined up across the front of the stage for this (and maybe Waterfall from The Grand Experiment) when they head out on tour.
And you’re never too far from a cover – the Morse / Portnoy / George Cover 2 Cover albums are fabulous. There’s a lovely two-minute keyboard-based intro to Bridge Over Troubled Water that really takes off into a suitably climactic overdrive on the “sail on silver bird” section. I suspect it may be the Gillette factor again.
The two extended format pieces almost feel like a chance to let loose after the more disciplined songs of the first half. Not Afraid Pt 2 bears little resemblance to Pt1. A typically multi-part Morse led effort – the sort of thing you’d hear in early Spock’s Beard – via The Beatles and Gentle Giant vocal sections
Beyond The Years crosses the half-hour barrier. Aided and abetted by a section where each player takes a sort of solo spot, eyes on the clock as they edge towards the landmark. Some may recall All Of The Above from the first Transatlantic album where the band almost deliberately set out to break that half-hour mark; there’s just something about a thirty-minute piece of music. The usual signature arrangement of passages that shift from classically influenced to musically heavyweight, recurring motifs and lyrical idea, at around the eighteen-minute mark, there’s a tremendous instrumental section . One that’s reminiscent of Steven Wilson’s explosive Home Invasion in a mid-tempo intensity. Bravo Mr Hubauer. And with five minutes to go, we begin on the preparations for landing. Again Eric is leading the “I will be here” vocal and the smart money is on ‘Neal in raised hand’ pose when this goes live.
Six years on from the first Neal Morse ‘band’ work, The Grand Experiment, there’s no sign of slowing down. Innocence & Danger is as uplifting and inspirational as ever.
Here’s Bird On A Wire from the album: