2022 (InsideOut Music)
It is said that it is not wise to start a review with a cheer. Well, this boy thinks quite differently. I would like to shout it from the rooftops that Nick D’Virgilio, Neal Morse and Ross Jennings have delivered a fantastic album with “Troika”. Okay, I’ll be nice and get some things sorted out first.
The only downside to this album is that the gentlemen have not really given a name to their collaboration project. Only mentioning the surnames is a bit simple in my opinion, while a good band name was up for the grabs. To me this company is called Troika, but hey. I think their album is so sublime, what are we complaining about?
Let’s introduce them (if necessary). Nick D’Virgilio and Neal Morse have a common past with Spock’s Beard and currently play in Big Big Train and The Neal Morse Band, respectively. Ross Jennings is the front man of prog metal band Haken and it is the combination of these three musicians that is interesting. Everyone is a singing all-rounder with compositional qualities and a backpack full of experience. Can’t go wrong!
On this well-sounding work, it is a multitude of sparkling acoustic guitars and flawless 3-part harmony vocals that predominate. Meanwhile, there is room for a swinging organ, electric guitar and lots of interesting percussion. All of this naturally thrives perfectly in the eleven compositions of the album where strong melody lines and catchy themes reign. The Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sound of this music is full of expression, skill and exuberance. You can stick labels on it as much as you want, it is certainly not explicit prog, it is all the more fresh singer-songwriter music. It is typical for a musician to look over the wall in addition to his regular work.
The album kicks off with three songs that were also released as a single. First of all, there’s the catchy Everything I Am that perfectly captures the album’s CSNY intentions. You will not get a copycat feeling in any way and you will be captivated by their honest craftsmanship. The harmony vocals are really great and so is the percussive underlay on which the song floats. Wonderful guitars and a ditto organ complete the gloating. The following Julia is a suit from the same sheet. Noteworthy here is the frivolous piano solo by Ross Jennings. Julia was also added to the album as an alternate version. This bonus track is over eight minutes long and shows the song as Jennings originally intended. So the regular album track was made later after Neal Morse rewrote the composition. The third single from the album is You Set My Soul On Fire. This somewhat lighter composition was written by Nick D’Virgilio and he also does the lead vocals with his beautiful voice.
After these accessible songs, they continue in this mode with One Time Less. Somehow I always make a Phil Collins association with the country song. Don’t ask me why. From then on there is a lot of variation and that while a lot of acoustic guitar and broad harmony vocals always remain in the front. For example, Another Trip Around the Sun has a somewhat sultry 70s atmosphere with the head voice of Jennings as the figurehead and A Change Is Gonna Come with its political text goes towards Eddie Vedder’s “Into The Wild”.
If I Could stands out because of a lascivious bass rhythm that makes you think you are somewhere in Ghana. Responsible for this is Tony Levin, the man who really knows how to get everything out of his bass guitar. With songs such as King For A Day and Second Hand Sons, Troika has a nice and solid sound. Especially Second Hand Sons with its Kravitz / Hendrix sauce is a treat. Finally, there are the two closers My Guardian and What You Leave Behind, of which the latter can join the list with the most melancholy, yet also cheerful closings in their territory.
“Troika” is a hugely entertaining album, a piece of work created by three born musicians. Well, this boy has had enough jubilation. Now your turn.
© Dick van der Heijde 2022