D’Virgilio, Morse & Jennings Sophomore Review

"Crosby, Stills, and Nash meets prog; that about sums up this album....

Label: Inside Out Music

Genre: Acoustic Rock

Release Date: November 10th, 2023

 

Line Up:

Nick D’Virgilio (vocals, drums, percussion)
Ross Jennings (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards)
Neal Morse (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards)

 

Tracklist:

Hard To Be Easy
Linger At the Edge Of My Memory
Tiny Little Fires
Right Where You Should Be
The Weary One
Mama
Im Not Afraid
Weighs Me Down
Walking On Water
Anywhere The Wind Blows

 

“Crosby, Stills, and Nash meets prog; that about sums up this album.

I was very surprised by this album. Unlike their first release, their ‘Sophomore’ release—also their eponymous album—takes a step into the folk and country territory while still maintaining the look and feel of their debut. A noticeable difference is the reduced full production on every song compared to their first album. However, don’t kid yourself; the drums, bass guitars, voices, etc. can be felt immediately upon listening to the album. On ‘Sophomore,’ the emphasis is on allowing each member to shine individually, showcasing an exploration in deeper ways that they possibly hadn’t done before.

All three musicians on this album are incredibly accomplished, so it should come as no surprise that this album is oozing with talent. If you enjoyed their first album as a trio, you’re going to enjoy their second and the bonus tracks.

I personally appreciated the variety of sounds found on this album. It’s more than just folk, country, prog, and harmonies. The lyrical content is a masterpiece too.

Hard to Be Easy – Starting with a catchy acoustic guitar riff, you’ll be transported to a land with sunny skies right before the voices come in, and you feel like singing along. This taste of their harmonies immediately will remind you of CSN (Crosby, Stills, and Nash). I like the mix on this song; everything is clear, and there’s no question that how this album starts is how it continues. I really like the lyrics in this song: ‘It shouldn’t be so hard, Be so hard to be easy.’ Beyond just catchy, it’s also relatable. The solo in this tune is great.

Linger at the Edge of My Memory – The intro to this song is beautiful. This is certainly a prog-infused song when the harmonies and vocals hit. Any fan of the genre will understand what I mean by this when they hear it. I love the drums in this tune; the interplay of toms and cymbals is tasty on the eardrums. The overall feel of the song is pleasing, and I’ve gone back to listen to this one quite a bit.

Tiny Little Fires – From the press release, it says, ‘Ross Jennings’s track “Tiny Little Fires” drew inspiration from another unexpected place. “I was playing around with my, at the time one-year-old, son’s toy xylophone, which has 8 notes on it. I had this little quirky melody with alternating time signatures that came to my head when I was mucking around. It stuck, and I got it down as soon as I could and developed it from there.” – I can honestly say this song is the top song on the album. All the instrumentation; there’s so much texture to this song. It’s a fun listen with yet again, super relatable content.

Right Where You Should Be – This track really hits the country hard, almost too much for my liking. That slide guitar feel typically isn’t my thing, but I promise let it keep going, let it sink in. As I began to unpack the words, I saw past the country feel, and I saw a song that I can 100% relate to, and I really started to enjoy the song on a deeper level. I like the key change in the song; it adds in right when it needs to, and then back to the main riff and harmonies. The alternate version, however, lacks that slide and other ‘country song’ elements, and it starts with Jennings singing the main melody to follow. Like the alternate for the weary one, this take really gives a totally different feel, just the guys and the guitar. I really like the alternate take, but both are good.

The Weary One – This is by far my favorite track on the album. It spoke to me in my current state of life as I reviewed this album. The guitar riff, the singing, the strings. The harmonies aren’t in your face on this track either; it’s more subtle. Overall, the song has a gentler feel than the previous tracks. There’s not as much instrumentation, and I’m okay with that; I think it fits the medium. I particularly like the alternate take. It doesn’t lose anything by lacking instruments or harmonies; in fact, I think it makes the elements present in the song stand out a little bit more.

Mama – This is certainly the most ’70s and ’80s rock-sounding song on the album, but I keep coming back to it, like an itch you scratch, and it just keeps itching; you want more. It’s a nice turn of events after ‘The Weary One’ (as much as I like this song). I got a major Queen vibe from this song; the harmonies and playing remind me of Queen. The solo is fun in this one too. I like the tone of the guitar with all the mids being promoted over treble.

I’m Not Afraid – The beginning of this song had me thinking jazzy Jason Mraz, but I don’t mind. It’s got a good moving/dancing with your hips vibe. Then we get to around 1:10, and the feel changes, gets a little more proggy, but then back to the fun Mraz feel. The more I listen to this tune, the more I like it. The guitar solo is on point, the rhythm change around 2:30 gives me a Rush feel until about 3:05 when we go back to that Mraz sound. This song really keeps you on your toes.

Weighs Me Down – The shining element of this song is the subtleness of the voices with the guitar, in my opinion. It’s got this feeling of riding in the air, bouncing from cloud to cloud, but it builds up; around 1:30, there’s this beautiful full-scale harmony run, I really liked that. The softer nature of this song speaks volumes. It’s another tune very reminiscent of CSN if they had recorded in this day and age. The last 20 seconds or so pick up, which leaves you thinking there could be more, but they end the song perfectly. Any more, and I think it would’ve gotten lost on the listener.

Walking On Water – I like this 6/4 feel right off the bat (If I’m counting this correctly), it got me moving right away. The guitar harmonics, the trills, the overdubs, all I can say is ‘ooooohhhh.’ It’s like little surprises that hit your ears. This is another very prog-influenced song from the sounds of it. But again, it’s a head-nodder, hip-shaker, whatever your dance moves are. The guitar tone in the solo is really nice; overdriven but not overdone. By this point, I feel like I’ve mentioned the harmonies too many times overall, but it’s true, it’s just done so well. The drums move a lot in this track, keeping your attention. And there’s clear points of timing changes which add this cool element not overly present throughout the rest of the album.

Anywhere the Wind Blows- has an almost pop-rock feel, but like everything else on this album, it’s executed in a way that leaves you wanting more. I really enjoy the chorus in this song; it’s perfectly done. The mid-song breakdown is just fun, and the acapella voices provide a nice touch, repeating the main line quite a bit.

This album is undoubtedly a 10/10. It covers what feels like every genre they needed to express, and none of the players are afraid to extend and expand upon what they have on paper and in song from their respective groups. I listened to this album extensively before writing this review, and it will definitely take a few listens to fully appreciate all the different elements within the album that reveal themselves as you listen. If you’re looking for an easy listen, this album fits the bill, but my suggestion is to sit down with the words, the riffs, and the harmonies; ingest it all. You will be glad you did.

 

Written by: Chris Rugowski

Ratings: 10/10

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