The new trio of Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train, ex-Spock’s Beard), Neal Morse (Transatlantic, NMB, ex-Spock’s Beard), and Ross Jennings (Haken, Novena) are set to release their debut album titled Troika on 25 February 2022. The band have now also released the video from the album’s third single “You Set My Soul On Fire”, directed by Christian Rios.
“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!”.
It’s no surprise that Neal’s former Spock’s Beard colleague Nick D’Virgilio was also 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.”
Neal went on to say “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!”
Neal comments: “What a great pleasure it’s been to work on this album with these amazing artists! It was kind of funny… We had been working on the songs remotely for several months before I finally heard all of us singing together at the same time. The first time I brought the faders up, I knew we had the magic!”
Nick adds: “I’ve known and worked with Neal for over 30 years and I’ve been a big fan of Ross and the music he makes for a long time. I felt confident right away that this would be a fun project to be a part of. I was so right.”
Ross comments: “Receiving ‘The Call’ from Neal to participate in this project was somewhat of a prayer answered… As a long time fan of their work, I’ve been singing along to Neal’s & Nick’s records for years, so it felt really natural for my voice to slot right in.”
The video for the most recent single follows:
Nick D’Virgilio had this to say about the track:
“You Set My Soul On Fire is simply put, a love song. It’s a song about love being able to warm even the coldest heart if you open the door and let it in. It is the first song I wrote for this project. Knowing that Neal and Ross would be adding their voices to the mix gave me real inspiration. “
Next up is the video for “Everything I am”:
And finally, watch the video for “Julia” here:
The three videos give you a great insight into the overall style and ambience of the album. Eleven tracks all feature a wonderfully clear mix and production, which is all the more remarkable given that the tracks took shape with the musicians recording all of the music and vocals separately – and in different continents! The end result is a credit to all involved.
The album starts with Everything I Am, followed by Julia and You Set My Soul On Fire, all three videos showing above so you don’t need my summary to gauge what they’re like. Suffice to say, there’s a blend of vocal harmonies and acoustic guitars in a style that is timeless, perhaps redolent of 70’s West Coast vibes, with more than a passing feel of Crosby, Stills and Nash or The Doobie Brothers about them – heady praise indeed, but think of Marrakesh Express, Lady Guinnevere, South City Midnight Lady…the songs might be fifty years apart but their message is the same!
One Time Less follows effortlessly in the same vein, ditto Another Trip Around The Sun – this could be the Beach Boys, I just can’t believe how these guys can produce such sweet three-part harmonies and even a chorale “Round” when they’re miles apart?! A Change Is Gonna Come is back into classic CS&N territory. Even to the point of evoking the rebellious summer of ’68 it’s simple but truly lovely.
If I Could keeps the quality relentlessly high, pastoral and countrified a la early Eagles, before King For A Day ups the tempo, very Doobie Bros, very good! Second Hand Sons cranks the heavyness higher, this could SO easily be Eagles plus Joe Walsh that I’m listening to! Some great guitar licks in here, for me the meatiest song on the record.
My Guardian is an interesting mix of sweet mellow mood before that West Coast soft-rock rolls in. As I understand it, Neal wrote all these songs and presumably led on the arrangements. I don’t think I’ve previously realised what a consummate singer-songwriter he is! But then perfectly balanced by the other two, truly inspired choices of vocal harmonies – and no mean dudes on acoustic guitars neither!
What You Leave Behind closes the album, a eulogy to the way we spend our days, the heritage we learn from (hopefully, in these dark times…) and, equally hopefully, our guidance and legacy for those who follow..
These songs positively shimmer with an eclectic energy, excitement and pure enthusiasm for the collaboration. Acoustic anthems, charged rockers and sensitive ballads are all part of the mix, and the unique blend of Ross, Neal and Nick’s voices and styles have created an album in which you will encounter these musicians in a way you’ve never heard since the 70’s!
You can also watch the trio talk about their debut album on a new 3-part interview series, Parts 1 and 2 are out now – Part 1 being at https://youtu.be/uGh82jhf7-c and Part 2 is at https://youtu.be/ogKX-_LezFY
This is quite simply a lovely album – Enjoy!