CD REVIEW – D’Virgilio, Morse & Jennings – Troika

“troika” – a group of three working together toward a common goal

Sometime during the lockdown and turmoil of 2020, Neal Morse wrote some songs that seemed to speak of other voices. “So I began thinking about who would be good to sing these songs with me. I was of course primarily thinking about the vocal blend, but then I thought it would be great if all three vocalists were songwriters also and we could contribute to each other’s music.”

So, about three days after Christmas 2020, Ross Jennings (Haken) received an email from Neal asking if he would be interested in the project. As Ross recalls, “I’ve always been into acoustic, vocal harmony kind of music, so without hesitation, my response to this invitation was a certain and resounding “yes!”.

Neal’s former Spock’s Beard colleague Nick D’Virgilio was similarly enthusiastic: “Back in the old days of Spock’s Beard we used to get done with concerts, get back on the tour bus, and sing CSN songs (there were some Beatles tunes thrown in there, too) until the sun came up! I always had a great time harmonizing with Neal, so I was totally into the idea of the project. Bringing Ross on board was the perfect match: I like how Ross sings very much and he is a super talented guy. Once I heard the demos he sent in for the project, I knew right away we would have something special.”

Working very much as a troika, each of the three started contributing songs to the album and shaping those that the others had brought. While there is no unifying lyrical concept, there are some political themes included, as Neal explains: “’A Change Is Gonna Come’ was originally written in the summer of 2020, when things were pretty rough and divisive here in America. It’s inspired by Martin Luther King’s quote that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ I simply want to encourage that things will get better.”

As Neal points out, “While the songs are musically on the simpler side and have more acoustic guitars, there’s a lot of instrumentation there in the final mix. I think people will like it in the same way that so many fans love Spock’s Beard’s ‘June’. Most of what this album is all about is the songs, the vibe and the vocal blend – and I’m SO happy with it!”

For Ross, the whole process was liberating and inspiring: “Contributing three original pieces to the mix and – as a long time admirer of Neal – co-writing one of those songs with him was a humbling and rewarding experience. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this record. I love how organic our voices sound together and I believe we’ve created a very interesting and beautiful album that shows our respective audiences a different side of each of us.”

Nick also loved working on the project: “Having to focus on simpler songs with three part harmonies in mind was fun to do and I got really inspired. Each of us has our own style, of course, but when the three come together it makes a wonderful sound. I love it!”

This is an album created during the lockdown period and incredibly recorded remotely. And yet it generates the good-time feel of the singer-songwriter groups of the late 60’s and 70’s. CSN, Bread, James Taylor – and the rest. In fact anyone who likes vocal harmonies will respect and enjoy this. Nine of of the 11 tracks are shorter acoustic pieces with their prog sensibilities escaping more fully on the rest.

The songs suit Jennings’ higher range, Morse going lower, with D’Virgilio in the middle, constantly gorgeous harmonies layered over acoustic guitars, with some ancillary band backing to suit the song. The danger of acoustic albums is the tendency to sameness, but the arrangements on this album, and their approach to vocals, generate a freshness and variety.

Of note is “Julia,” originally a Jennings tune about a troubled father-daughter relationship, which morphs into a nicely distilled multi-part melodic masterpiece that you could just imagine being worked up into prog bombast in another project. But not this one. “You Set My Soul on Fire,” “If I Could” and “A Change is Gonna Come” have enjoyable diversions that take them beyond the traditional songwriter format. Needless to say Morse’s Nashville bent invokes a country feel to “One Time Less” and world influences bring in rhythmic stylings on “If I Could”. And, noting all three singers penchant for multi-vocal layering, where would we be without a foray into Gentle Giant territory on “Another Trip Around the Sun”. For those who prefer more meat than songwriter veg, the Rundgren-like “King for a Day” and “Second Hand Sons” should satisfy, whilst still being all about the the three-part harmonies, and incorporating the 12- and 6-string guitars that are the focus of this album.

We all know that Morse projects seem to feature Morse heavily, sometimes to the detriment of others. And for anyone who might think Ross Jennings might be overpowered b the sheer history of his fellow musicians, think again. On this album, all three contributed songs to Troika and they each take turns on lead vocals, which gives the album depth, breadth, variety, and a satisfying completeness.

“troika” – a group of three working together toward a common goal

Tracklisting:

  1. Everything I Am (5:43)
  2. Julia (6:07)
  3. You Set My Soul On Fire (3:22)
  4. One Time Less (4:53)
  5. Another Trip Around The Sun (4:39)
  6. A Change Is Gonna Come (4:24)
  7. If I Could (4:02)
  8. King For A Day (5:47)
  9. Second Hand Sons (4:43)
  10. My Guardian (3:43)
  11. What You Leave Behind (4:16)

Band

Nick D’Virgilio
Neal Morse
Ross Jennings

Internet

www.facebook.com/ndvofficial
www.nickdvirgilio.com
www.instagram.com/ndvirgilio
twitter.com/NDVmusic
www.facebook.com/nealmorse
twitter.com/nealmorse
www.instagram.com/neal_morse_official
www.rossjennings.co.uk
www.instagram.com/rossjenningsofficial
www.facebook.com/rossjenningsofficial
twitter.com/RossWJennings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.