“I didn’t get into music because I wanted to be a big success…I originally went after music because I simply loved it. There wasn’t anything else for me. Nothing moved me like music did, and my hope had always been to move people as I had been moved.” — NEAL MORSE
Widely regarded as one of the world’s leading progressive rock (‘prog’) musicians, there is now no doubt that NEAL MORSE is a “big success,” but his desire to move people through his music burns brighter than ever.
Now in his mid-fifties and his children grown up, there is a sense on his new album, LIFE AND TIMES, that MORSE is looking around and taking stock. “I’ve come through a lot of difficult times and I’m in a fairly content place now,” he says. “You can feel that on some of the songs.” Much of this ‘acoustic-orientated, singer/songwriter’ album was written while he was travelling around the world on “The Road Called Home” tour in 2017, with some of the songs being inspired by the places he visited, while others are from spending time with his family.
For example, “Manchester By the Sea” is a musical portrait of that notorious rarity—a sunny day in Manchester, England—when MORSE was sitting in a coffee shop watching the world go by. “Selfie in The Square” captures what he saw walking around Luxembourg City, hearing the cathedral bells and children playing, but realizing what a difference it makes to share these experiences. “Luxembourg was really nice, but I knew that if my wife was there, it would feel like a holiday, so I wrote a song about it to send to her,” he explains.
Some of these slice-of-life portraits also resonate with other people’s heartaches, such as “Joanna,” which focuses on MORSE’s son dealing with the loss of a relationship and— most poignantly—“He Died At Home,” about a mother’s grief over the loss of her soldier son. As MORSE says, “I had been praying for a roommate of a friend of mine, who was a troubled ex-military guy. The day we were playing in Paris, I woke up to a text saying that sadly, he had died. As I began formulating ideas for a song about him, I remembered that many years ago, I had been at a meeting at a military base in Tennessee. They asked us to pray for their men because almost every week they were going to the funeral of those who had ‘died at home.’”
The power of the song that MORSE eventually crafted has moved people in ways that he could never have imagined: “Because of the idea for the song, I was researching soldier suicides online and found an article about a young soldier named William Busbee. He came back from Afghanistan in 2012, and then committed suicide. The video director contacted Libby Busbee, his mother, who listened to the song and was so moved that she is contributing photos of William to put in the video.” The song also had quite an impact when it was premiered at Morsefest 2017, where it was very much the talk of the festival.
NEAL MORSE is hoping to move more people with these songs at some “absolutely solo” shows in cafes and small venues throughout the U.S. and Europe in 2018. He is keen to point out, though, that only a few of the songs on the new album are sad: “One of the things I’m enjoying at this stage of my life is music that makes you feel good.” And some of the tracks—particularly “Living Lightly” and “Lay Low”—are very much in that category.