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D’Virgilio, Morse & Jennings ‘Sophomore’ album review

Nick DVirgilio Neal Morse Ross Jennings

In the realm of acoustic melodic rock, the trio of Nick D’Virgilio, Neal Morse, and Ross Jennings — collectively known as DMJ — solidify their presence with their second offering, “Sophomore.” This record is both an affirmation of their established chemistry and a nuanced departure into a more eclectic sound. Following the CSNY-inspired inception of their debut album “Troika,” “Sophomore” dives into deeper creative waters, marrying the folk-rock ethos with progressive complexities and classic rock vigor.

Hard to Be Easy” opens the album with a lively tempo and intricate acoustic guitar work, setting the scene with the familiar harmonious layers that now define DMJ. This track’s upbeat nature belies its more tumultuous lyrical content, a clever juxtaposition that encapsulates the album’s overarching ability to balance light and shadow. The ‘da-da-da-dada’ interlude serves as an homage to the trio’s influences while also asserting their own identity within the genre.

Linger at the Edge of My Memory” and “Tiny Little Fires” emerge as testaments to the individual talents within the group — the former showcasing NDV‘s vocal prowess and songwriting finesse, and the latter unveiling Jennings’ capability to craft a quirky yet catchy tune, highlighted by a toy xylophone’s melody and time signature playfulness. It’s on these tracks that the listeners are treated to the synergy of DMJ, with vocals interweaving seamlessly despite the distance between the artists during recording.

D’Virgilio‘s “Mama” is a pivot into rockier territory, stirring memories of Cream and The Doobie Brothers, propelled by electric guitar and a voice that brings a raw edge to the album’s texture. Here, DMJ prove that they are not confined to the acoustic strings; they can wield the electric with equal conviction.

Amidst these tracks are moments of profound introspection, as found in “The Weary One,” where Morse‘s soulful delivery resonates with the emotional weight of the world-weary. The harmonious “Weighs Me Down” further exemplifies the trio’s vocal prowess, carrying a beauty that is as stirring as it is somber.

However, “Sophomore” is not without its imperfections. The album at times seems to waver under the weight of its ambition. The inclusion of Morse‘s “Right Where You Should Be” and “The Weary One” arguably veer too close to his solo work, somewhat disrupting the collective spirit that defines much of the record. Yet, the alternate versions of these tracks suggest a willingness to re-evaluate and refine, hinting at an evolving artistic process within the group.

Sophomore” also doesn’t shy away from the members’ progressive rock roots. “Walking On Water” is a clear nod to this, with Latin rhythms and complex vocal arrangements that are as intricate as any elaborate tapestry crafted by their primary bands. Morse‘s bluesy guitar solo in this track is a particularly delightful nod to their prog heritage.

The album’s production is pristine, allowing each vocal nuance and instrumental layer to shine without becoming overwhelming. The visual touch of using the members’ sophomore year photos adds a personal, nostalgic flair to the package, complementing the album’s theme of growth and evolution.

Overall, “Sophomore” is a robust follow-up to DMJ‘s debut, serving both as a confirmation of their talents and a statement of their explorative intent. It stands as a record that offers familiarity to those who are enamored with their musical lineage while promising that their future endeavors may push even further into uncharted territory. The album’s strength lies in its ability to be edgier and more experimental without losing the essence of what brought these musicians together. It’s an opus that, indeed, seems fated — a testament to the alchemy of three distinct musical entities forging a shared path.

Rating: 9/10

Pre-order Sophomore” HERE.

Sophomore

1. Hard To Be Easy
2. Linger At The Edge Of My Memory
3. Tiny Little Fires
4. Right Where You Should Be
5. The Weary One
6. Mama
7. I’m Not Afraid
8. Weighs Me Down
9. Walking On Water
10. Anywhere The Wind Blows
11. Right Where You Should be (Alternative Version)*
12. The Weary One (Alternative Version)*
*CD bonus tracks

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