D’VIRGILIO, MORSE & JENNINGS – Sophomore [Bonus Tracks Edition] (2023)
Three titans of progressive rock, Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train), Neal Morse (Transatlantic, NMB) & Ross Jennings (Haken, Novena) joined forces in 2021 for their debut album, a record that saw them exploring their love of more acoustic-led music.
Now D’VIRGILIO, MORSE & JENNINGS are ready to release the follow-up, aptly titled ‘Sophomore’, on 10th November 2023. “Sophomore” is a bit more electric, melodic, almost commercial for these musicians more prog-related material. These are ‘song format’ compositions around a four-minute tracks.
For the three members, this group serves as something different for all of them. Morse explains, “I’ve never been part of a group that was like this one. Most people know I’m a big CSN fan and I love Yes’s three-part harmonies and The Beatles as well. D·M·J is a special group that is its own unique cup of tea and has such a nice flavor.”
Nick D’Virgilio & Neal Morse had already been playing the likes of CSNY and Beatles tunes for years in their Spock’s Beard days, jamming to tunes they loved late at night after the concerts were over. To write an album in this style of music was nothing new for them, especially considering Neal Morse had already released several singer songwriter solo albums over the past decade.
What was a new twist was bringing Jennings into the mix. He was largely an unknown quantity for this style and Morse didn’t even know how their three voices sounded together until he received the initial mixes back from their overdubbed recordings.
Fortunately, the sound is spot-on. But that’s the thing about this project – it’s all been recorded separately and the three have only gotten together in person when they recorded a couple of music videos for this new album. Not that you would know that from the way their voices and songs interweave with one another.
On “Sophomore” there’s upbeat feel-good tunes that bring to mind those CSN moments, even some Eagles. There’s more introspective pieces that embrace the ideology of what acoustic music is all about. And there’s a couple of tracks where they actually do plug some instruments in and rock out a little.
The quality of songwriting and performances is top notch.
We start off with “Hard To Be Easy”, happy in its music but finding more strife in the lyrics. Despite the relationship turmoil described, you’ll be tapping your feet and grooving to this opening tune. Following the lead of Stephen Stills, Morse plays a wide variety of instruments including the bouncy bass lines and slide guitar leads. However, it’s his B3 organ that really drives the tune, in addition to D’Virgilio tasty percussion.
Later on the album closes with his “Anywhere The Wind Blows”, which beckons the listener to take a ride with the top down. It’s one of the most rewarding on the album despite its simple structure.
D’Virgilio scores one of his best songs yet in “Linger At The Edge of My Memory”, a beautiful ballad sung gorgeously by himself and making the most of his singing partners on the chorus. The acoustic guitar on this one is all performed by D’Virgilio with the ringing out of sensitive chords in the introduction, while Morse provides subtle but supportive electric piano.
Further on D’Virgilio delivers the most rocking song on the album in “Mama”, unleashing some talk box and electric guitar. He follows up with the playful “I’m Not Afraid”, D’Virgilio covering most of the instrumentation this time including featured ukulele.
Not to be forgotten, Jennings offers three excellent songs of his own. The catchy “Tiny Little Fires” stands out through the unexpected xylophone appearance, which initially inspired the song. As with several of the other numbers, Morse’s B3 organ plays an important role in supporting whole vibe and joy of the tune.
“Weighs Me Down” is a hypnotizing piece, augmented by additional vocals from their families – Yulia Jennings and Sophia D’Virgilio, a nice touch. Finally, “Walking On Water” turns into a high spirited outing with an excellent chorus of its own. Jennings plays bass, keys and electric guitar on all of his three contributions, giving a different feel from the other two guys.
D’VIRGILIO, MORSE & JENNINGS ‘Sophomore’ is filled with consistently strong songs as they celebrate the trails laid by their musical forefathers. Once again, it’s a welcome detour from their prog day jobs.
01 – Hard to Be Easy
02 – Linger at the Edge of My Memory
03 – Tiny Little Fires
04 – Right Where You Should Be
05 – The Weary One
06 – Mama
07 – I’m Not Afraid
08 – Weighs Me Down
09 – Walking on Water
10 – Anywhere the Wind Blows
11 – Right Where You Should Be (Alternative Version)
12 – The Weary One (Alternative Version)
Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train, ex-Spock’s Beard) – vocals, drums, bass, guitars
Neal Morse (Transatlantic, NMB) – vocals, bass, guitars, keyboards
Ross Jennings (Haken, Novena) – vocals, guitar, keyboards