October 28, 2023

When three prog rock superstars, Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train), Neal Morse (Transatlantic, NMB) & Ross Jennings (Haken, Novena), joined forces in 2021 to record an album as a new group, few could have expected it to be a singer/songwriter album built around acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies. But not only did this trio create such an album with Troika, it was perhaps the surprise success of 2022.

Now, the trio is back with a new album titled Sophomore.

Ross Jennings, Nick D’Virgilio, Neal Morse

The group’s appropriately titled second album builds from where their debut left off, with acoustic guitars and multi-layered vocal harmonies – but with a more adventurous musical pallet.

Upon being asked by the label to work on a follow-up album. the three musicians began trading song ideas towards the end of 2022, ultimately choosing the 10 songs to be recorded in Jan-Feb of 2023. “I think there was always a plan in the back of everybody’s minds about doing a second one. We just got the conversation started and then started checking out some tunes. There were a lot of songs that were a little less fleshed out than with the first album, but once we got the ball rolling, it kind of went really fast”, says Nick D’Virgilio.

For D’Virgilio, this album is a natural progression for the group. “It’s a little edgier, takes us in a little bit of a different direction. It shows that we can kind of keep this going for a while and get creative with the music. The three-part harmony thing is going to be the central focus of it, but we can take it different places.”

For the first time since the band formed, the trio got together in person for the making of a few videos for the album. It also marked the first time they sang together in person, D’Virgilio explains. “Since we were there, we decided to try a little live performance. We’ve never sang together before in person, but it came together very quickly. It’s a very natural thing and I think bodes well for us getting out there on the road and hopefully doing some live shows.”

There is no shortage of catchy choruses, interesting melodies, and superb song-writing throughout the 10-track set. From the opening guitar and acapella vocals of “Hard to Be Easy,” to the wistful and breezy closer “Anywhere the Wind Blows,” this is another enjoyable collection of tracks ready to take the listener on a blissful listening experience.

The ideas for the songs were inspired from a variety of places on Sophomore, whether from Nick D’Virgilio listening to a Sunday morning sermon and hearing the phrase ‘Linger At the Edge of My Memory”, or writing a tribute to all mothers in the track “Mama.” For Neal, on one occasion, it was simply sitting on the beach. Neal Morse explains, “I’ve always liked the title ‘Anywhere the Wind Blows.’ I wrote that one on the beach. I like to just noodle around on guitar at the beach a lot of time, it’s just a relaxing thing I enjoy. I started playing the opening riff when I sat down. It had a feeling of freedom to me and so I went with this idea of a guy driving, not knowing where he’s going, going on an adventure.”

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.”

Ross comments: “The melody for Tiny Little Fires came about as a result of messing around with my son’s toy Xylophone. You never know when or where inspiration strikes but when it does, you just gotta harvest and harness it. And so with that Xylophone hook, along with the alternating time signatures, an entire song began unravelling and building in my head and at the first opportunity I demoed a full band version of the track. It came together extremely fast and the final recording with our three voices, along with Nick’s live drums and Neal’s additional Wakeman-esque keys, didn’t differ too much from what I visualised that morning goofing around with my toddler!”

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. My dad was a choir director, so harmonies are in my blood! DMJ is a special group that is its own unique cup of tea and has such a nice flavour. Great blend. The main thing for me is to be working on good songs; it doesn’t matter to me who writes them or necessarily that much about styles. If the songs are good, then I’m all about it.”

Jennings agrees, “I’m a huge fan of country and folk music, I love the three-part harmony style. As a vocalist known for progressive metal releases, prior to forming the band I could never have predicted that I’d be considered to be part of a group making music like this. It’s still mind-blowing to me since I’d never officially recorded and released any music of this genre to prove that I can do it. Making these records with Nick and Neal has been such a pleasant and rewarding experience. It’s funny how things work out sometimes!”

Sophomore is thoroughly enjoyable no matter what kind of vibe you’re after – the perfect album to put on at any moment. It further proves that no matter the style of music, D’Virgilio, Morse & Jennings are right where they should be

Sophomore will be available on Limited CD Edition (incl. 2 bonus tracks); Ltd Gatefold Transparent Red LP; Ltd Gatefold Transparent Blue LP and as a digital album.

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Tracklisting:

Hard To Be Easy

Linger At The Edge Of My Memory

Tiny Little Fires

Right Where You Should Be

The Weary One

Mama

I’m Not Afraid

Weighs Me Down

Walking On Water

Anywhere The Wind Blows

Right Where You Should be (Alternative Version)*

The Weary One (Alternative Version)*

*CD bonus tracks

Pre-order now herehttps://dvirgiliomorsejennings.lnk.to/Sophomore