Lee Speaks About Music… #61

Neal Morse – Life and Times



Well one would most likely associate Neal Morse with progressive rock and he’s certainly without a doubt one of the most prolific writers in today’s world of prog rock music too. I have been a fan of Neal’s work since the year 2000 when I first stumbled upon him in the so called supergroup that was assembled together from 4 other prog rock bands to form the band Transatlantic, who released their debut album SMPT’e in that very year.

Having got into that band I soon discovered that the band he came from originally, he formed back in 1995 and pretty much was that bands main writer. The band went by the rather strange name of Spock’s Beard, and I back tracked on their albums, and brought those too. Though in 2002 Neal quit Spock’s Beard to concentrate on his own solo career and a lot of it was really down to his Christian beliefs and his love of god.

There is no doubt that Neal Morse is one busy guy who gets involved in lots of other projects and bands, and even the output of his solo career comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. For example besides preaching the words of god in the many progressive rock albums he has made under his own name of Neal Morse and more later known as the  Neal Morse Band. He also from time to time makes worship albums. and even pop albums such as the one we have here.

As a matter of fact his first 2 solo albums he made whilst still in Spock’s Beard were pop albums. I think his original intention was to keep his solo career for the purpose of doing something different, and it was only after he quit that band, that he really started to use his own solo side for prog rock as well.

I have to confess I do not have all of Neal’s albums, apart from the prog rock ones, and the other odd pop album he makes now and then.

I do not buy his worship albums, and I am not a church goer and a bit of an atheist myself. Though I have never had anything against anybodies own beliefs, and even though many of his prog rock solo output contains lyrics about god. I have never really had a problem with the lyrics at all. Because for me the music will always come first, and if the music does not speak to me, there is no way I am buying it I am afraid.

Though that is not to say that I do not like great lyrics and ignore them at all. I have always admired great words and my music collection consists of a lot more than just progressive rock. I love great singer songwriters too. I love songs that have true meaning, and can touch you deeply with words too.

Having seen a couple of videos of a couple of the songs that was going to be on this new album of Neal’s prior to its release, very much made me pre-order it.

So as always, let’s start off by looking at the packaging the CD comes in.

The Packaging & Artwork…


Well as you can see the CD comes in a standard Jewel Case. With most artists these days using Digipaks. The Jewel Case might be considered as a bit out of date. Though there is no doubt the Jewel Case does have its own advantages over Digipaks. For one thing they protect the disc better, and they are easy to clean, and cheap enough to replace should you damage the case.

But for looks and the feel of getting something a bit extra for your money. I personally think the Digipak is the way to go, as long as they are not done on the cheap, and merely come with cardboard sleeves to store the disc.

Something like the quality of the last album I reviewed where the Digipak comes with the part of the Jewel Case that holds the CD fixed to the cardboard. And if they can come with a fixed booklet and thicker quality cardboard even better.

There is no doubt it does cost the artist more money to package their albums in a Digipak than a conventional Jewel Case. And the fact that this album came in a Jewel Case for the price I paid for it, it’s certainly going to be losing some points in my overall price point score.

The booklet contains all the lyrics, a few photos and all the other general artist and credits information. The artwork layout was done by The Man In The Mountain whoever he is :)))))))) and the photography was done by Joey Pippin.

The Album In Review…

Life & Times by Neal Morse was released on the 16th February 2018. I pre-ordered it on Amazon a couple of weeks prior to its release and got the album on the day of its release. To be honest I was expecting the price to come down a bit, as is the case with most pre-orders. But it never, and I ended up paying the pre-ordered price of £13.96.

Personally I feel that it’s on the expensive side, especially has it came in a Jewel Case and should of really cost no more than £10. But I dare say your are paying the import price for it to be shipped from America.

The album itself comes with 12 tracks over an overall playing time of 51 minutes, 40 seconds. They are all songs and it does not contain any instrumental tracks. Neal has the knack of writing great songs, no matter what genre of music he takes on, and as always had a good way with words.

To be honest I would not give you tuppence for the biggest majority of today’s pop artists, but if it’s done good enough with real musicians, then it can still speak to me. But it’s very rare I will buy it, unless it’s exceptionally good.

Though by no means am I saying that Neal Morse writes pop music exceptionally that good either, like he does with prog rock. But he is a very talented multi instrumentalist, and always plays with great musicians, and you do get to see another side of this great man’s talent.

He can also write some very meaningful songs too, and most of his pop albums have some great moments as well, even if they are not what I would call solid albums and can contain mediocre material as well.

I would also say that being a fan may have also had some bearing as to why I brought a pop album like this of his in the first place. But as a rule you do end up with a few great songs, and these type of albums he does from time to time, do generally have something that will speak to me.

Musicians & Credits…

Produced by Neal Morse. All tracks mixed by Rich Mouser @ Madhouse Studios. Except tracks 5, 7, & 11. Mixed by Terry Christian @ Soundhouse Studios. Tracking Sessions Engineered by Philip & Nathan Martin. Photography by Joey Pippin. Layout by Man In The Mountain. All songs written by Neal Morse except “Manchester” written by Neal Morse & Geoff Bailie.

Neal Morse: Lead & Backing Vocals/Guitars/Keyboards/Mandolin/Percussion/Bass Guitar (On Track 2).
Richard Brinsfiled: Bass.
Scott Willimason: Drums.
Scotty Sanders: Pedal Steel & Dobro Guitar.
Chris Carmichael: Strings.
Holly Smith: French Horn.
Dominique Caster: Trumpet.
Julie Harrison: Lead & Backing Vocals.
Wil Morse: Backing Vocals & General Input.
Gabe Klein: Backing Vocals & Programming.

The Album Tracks In Review…

The album Life & Times by Neal Morse contains a collection of songs that Neal had mainly written in various parts of Europe and America whilst on tour in 2017. The material he wrote reflects around the subject matter of looking at life in general. Perhaps as one gets older and is content with everything around them. It takes in some of the joys, ups and downs, loves and heartaches along the way. Some of the material is based around his family, friends and people around him, and some fictional love songs are thrown in to boot.

As with most pop songs, they are generally written with more brighter chords and have the knack of hitting you in the face instantly. The songs are all easily accessible and it does not take you long to get into them at all.

Some people like that sort of thing, others prefer songs you have to grow into, which requires a lot more spins and more attention to detail, to take it all in and absorb everything.

To be honest I do not mind either, but in general I quite often find the songs one does have to grow into, are the ones that will last you a lifetime. They are the real stayers. This is where Neal’s albums do differ regarding the output of his music.

Whilst albums such as this one is instantly likeable, it will not be too long before they start to gather dust so to speak. For me personally his best output of music comes from his progressive rock side. My personal two favourite albums from his solo career are Sola Scriptura and the album simply titled ?. Known as Question Mark.

So let’s now take a look at all the individual album tracks, and see what goodies lie in stall.

Track 1. Livin’ Lightly.

Livin’ Lightly (Official Video Release)

The album get off to a nice pleasant start with “Livin’ Lightly“. The song runs along at a nice steady pace, and as a nice airy feel and flow about it. Some fine instrumentation and Neal’s fine voice and Julie Harrison’s fine voice comes into play very well at the end of the song too.  Scotty Sanders does a grand job on the pedal steel guitar, and it gives it that bit of a nice country feel to it, sort of like an Eagles song in some respects.

Speaking of the Eagles it’s perhaps a song that is a bit along the lines of their song “Taking It Easy” in some respects, and the lyrics are perhaps more based around winding down from the pressures of work and taking a well earned holiday break from it all. It’s a very fine song, and even has a relaxed feel about it all as the words suggest. I would even consider it as a contender for the best track on the album too.

Track 2. Good Love Is On The Way.

Good Love Is On The Way” is a very well written song, and one that comes with a very catchy chorus. It’s that catchy it will even have you singing along to it instantly. I even find myself getting out of bed singing it, and I often feel if a song can do that to you, it has to be a great song, and no doubt it is.

In some respects it perhaps gives me that quality feel that The Tremeloes had with one of their great hits “Even The Bad Times Are Good” from 1967 it sort of reflects that quality of well good songwriting we have here. It’s got a nice bridge as well. It’s a really great song and another contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 3. JoAnna.

Another fine song is “JoAnna“. It’s got quite a laid back country feel and the words are perhaps a bit more on a personal level in that they relate to the time when Neal’s son was dealing with a broken down relationship with a woman of the same name we have in the title here.

Once again Scotty Sanders pedal steel guitar is put to great use, and Chris Carmichael’s strings are very well utilised in the song. So far I cannot fault the album and the tracks are very well placed, and each song flows very well along one after another. This has to be another contender for the top spot too.

Track 4. Selfie In The Square.

A song that was inspired whilst Neal was on his European Tour and in Luxembourg. Lyrically the song is based around a day off he had whilst he was over there, and it takes in everything he seen on that day, and sott of wishes his wife was with him instead of back home in America. He’s put all those things into context quite well.

It’s not a bad song and has a pleasant enough feel about it with the use the Neal’s voice and instrumentation. In some ways it gives me a bit of a the feel of one of Gilbert O’ Sullivan’s many songs he writes with a sense of humour to them. Even the nice touch of brass in the little break as a bit of a touch of a Gordon Mills arrangement about it.

Track 5. He Died At Home.

He Died At Home (Official Video Release)

No doubt the stand out track on the album and certainly what I would call a real songwriters song. A very touching powerful, emotional and moving sad story of a song, based on a true event of a young soldier by the name of William Busbee and his grieving mother. No doubt this is Neal Morse at his poignant best.

Once again Chris Carmichael’s strings accompany Neal’s voice and acoustic guitar superbly and so fitting to it all is the French Horn played by Holly Smith. It’s my personal favourite track on the album, and no doubt merits the top spot award.

Track 6. She’s Changed Her Mind.

A change of mood from the previous tearjerker of a brilliant song, to something that is a bit more of a light hearted love song. The song is executed well enough with the instrumentation and Neal’s fine voice, though it’s perhaps not gonna set the world on fire. But never the less it’s pleasant enough, and not that bad.

Track 7. Wave On The Ocean.

Another song that has a holiday feel about it and even a touch of the Caribbean or the Tropics. It’s perhaps a bit like something Paul Simon would of done on his Graceland album with the instrumentation and the whole vibe of it all we get here. It’s not a bad song, and all those who liked Simon’s Graceland album it no doubt will appeal to more than myself on that score.

I prefer Paul Simon’s earlier solo material and his work with Art Garfunkel in relation to anything he did later. So this one does not tick my box so well I am afraid.

Track 8. You + Me + Everything.

A lovely ballad of a song with a great arrangement and a nice bridge too. Part of its melody line reminds me a bit of Marillion’s song “Lavender” though there is perhaps quite a few other songs it reminds me of too on that score. Nothing remotely bad here and very pleasing song for the ears.

Track 9. Manchester.

A song that Neal was inspired whilst being on tour over here in England and in Manchester. Though until the end of song you may feel he is in his own country because he describes Manchester having a coastline and the sea. He co-wrote this one with Geoff Bailie.

It’s all a bit of fun, and has a nice cheerful up-tempo flow and feel about it, and also has that Holiday vibe about it all. Though I cannot say I would be that joyous about being in Manchester myself :))))))). I think the only time they are so joyous there, is perhaps at the football grounds when they are winning :))))).

Track 10. Lay Low.

Another song that’s got a nice country feel to it. It’s a song about finding oneself perhaps and getting away from the hustles and bustles that can stress us out from time to time. I suppose it’s another way of taking a break from it all, and not a bad little song.

Track 11. Old Alabama.

A wonderful country ballad of a song that features both Neal and Julie Harrison taking on the lead vocals. It’s perhaps one of the better compositions on the album, in relation to some of the more mediocre songs we get here, and beautifully done. Though just like many of the other songs we get as this album goes along, I would not say it was in anyway a contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 12. If I Only Had A Day.

“If I Only Had A Day” is another fine song and like most of the songs they very much have that country pop feel about them. Lyrically the song is based upon the differences between either having a year, a month, a week or only having a day to live, and what one would do in relation to what time you had left to live. It’s another fine song and puts a pleasant end to quite a pleasant album.


To sum up The Life & Times by Neal Morse. It’s an album that perhaps has a good few moments with the material he wrote for it. It’s mainly a country pop album, and if that is your personal taste in music, then this album will no doubt float your boat more than myself on that score.

Like I said earlier in my review. I very much brought this album more or less as being a fan, though I will also stress that having heard “He Died At Home” prior to the albums release, that song did very much have a bearing on why I did purchase this album in the first place, because that is really an excellent well written song.

I have always admired Neal Morse as a songwriter, though mostly for his writing in the world of progressive rock. But in reality even if you listen closely to how Neal constructs the music for his prog rock songs, you will see that they are all in reality different songs strung together to make it all up, with musical interludes in between to make it that more exiting.

So he has always been a great songwriter, and that’s how he can also work with songs that have different genres, and why he is so good at what he does.

Even though I think he’s one of today’s most prolific progressive rock song writers, he’s not the guy who could construct his music like Yes did with “Close To The Edge” as an example. That is an entirely different art form in how it’s been constructed, and is not done by stringing a load of songs together like he does.

Yes managed to successfully piece together one song out of the musical structures that make it all up to work as one piece of music. They were the masters of prog rock back in their day, and personally I do not know anybody who did as well as they did either.

Though I love tons of prog rock music from that magic decade, and in today’s world with the many bands who are keeping this great music still alive.

Personally for me, I still think the very first 2 albums Neal Morse did with Spock’s Beard are the best prog rock albums he ever wrote, especially the 2nd album Beware Of Darkness. Though the rest of the albums Neal Did with Spock’s Beard up until 2002 also had some very good material on them, a lot of them also contained some mediocre material on them too, and even songwriter songs like we have here too.

June” from The Kindness Of Strangers album is a perfect example. You will also hear songs like that making up many of his concept albums too.

Effectively Neal Morse as always been a singer songwriter, he just goes about it a bit different when he’s working on his prog rock album’s that’s all. It all adds to the excitement and brings out a lot of his talent and uniqueness.


To conclude my review of Neal Morse’s latest album Life & Times. It’s perhaps an album that the biggest majority of fans who follow him for his prog rock music, would not even buy. But there are many other sides to this great man’s talent and his great way of going about writing songs. He is without doubt a great songwriter, and that is how I have always seen him, and why I would buy an album like this as well.

Though I do have to confess I do draw the line regarding his worship albums. But no doubt I would expect some of them to contain some great songs as well.

Personally on the whole, I would say Neal’s last pop rock album back in 2014 Songs From November is a better album, and it contains a lot more stronger written material.

Though like I said Life & Times does have its moments, and no way have I wasted my money either, and there is still some pleasure to be had even from an album like this, even if it’s not perhaps gonna set the world on fire so to speak.

I do however feel that it’s price point was on the expensive side for an album like this though, and for this money I have even brought some of his prog rock albums that come with a CD and DVD for the same price.

My personal highlights from the album are “He Died At Home“. “Good Love Is On The Way“. “JoAnna“. “You + Me + Everything” and “Livin’ Lightly“.

Overall there is no doubt that for Neal’s prog rock fans the Life & Times album is perhaps a far cry from Neal Morse’s last prog rock album The Similitude Of A Dream which was another superb album.

But if anybody can put a song like “He Died At Home” down, there must be something seriously wrong with them is all I can say, because that is a true classic in my eyes.

I do believe that Neal is also working on another prog rock album with his own band, whilst he was making this album, and I dare say that will be out later this year too. And I shall be looking well forward to that too.

You Can’t Watch Friends Get Killed And Stay The Same Inside…

The album track listing is as follows:

01. Livin’ Lightly. 5:02.
02. Good Love Is On The Way. 3:52.
03. JoAnna. 4:34.
04. Selfie In The Square. 3:55.
05. He Died At Home. 4:57.
06. She’s Changed Her Mind. 4:01.
07. Wave On The Ocean. 4:12.
08. You + Me + Everything. 4:34.
09. Manchester. 4:07.
10. Lay Low. 3:58.
11. Old Alabama. 4:47.
12. If I Only Had A Day. 3:41.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 6/10.

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