Every once in a while, I hear an album that feels like a breath of fresh air, not necessarily in musical originality, but in heart and soul. Ross Jennings is launching his solo career on November 19th with the effort A Shadow of My Future Self, and it shows a different side to his style. Or does it? Maybe this was just Ross all along.
Ross is better known as the vocalist for Haken and Novena. His “prog” cred is undeniable, but his heart has always had room for other styles, too. This debut explores those sounds. He brings with him guest musicians Simen Sandnes on drums, Nathan Navarro on bass, Vikram Shankar on keys and orchestrations, and Jørgen Lund Karlsen on sax.
We are used to hearing Ross’ voice in a progressive rock/metal setting, I know. But something has always made me want to hear him in other settings. He is a self-admitted fan of pop, especially from the 80s, as well as country, jazz, and more. This album is primarily a pop rock record. Yes, there are some complex tunes on it, but also songs that are simply fun and catchy. You will hear some jazzy accents on a couple tracks, as well as some very light country subtleties. The music can sound like New Wave one moment, Pink Floyd another, and then something all Ross’ own in still another. The range is impressive, and one reason why this record really works.
And diversity is definitely needed here. The album has 13 tracks plus a bonus song, and it runs about 75 minutes. That is a quite a bit of music, especially for this style. But, outside of a couple tracks that could maybe have seen a little more refinement, all of the songs are humdingers. Seriously, some of these tracks are memorable in intense fashion.
I should mention that the guest musicians are a huge part of this album’s success. I love Simen’s beefy drums, and Nathan lays down some sweet bass lines that take the quirky feelings to the next level. Vikram’s keys are illustrious and beautiful, as always, and Jørgen’s sax ranges from pealing madness to bluesy goodness. These musicians took on the challenge of this record and really delivered.
I can’t cover all of the tracks, but, believe me, there is much to discuss. From the fantastic acoustic opener “Better Times” to the ultra catchy “Rocket Science” to the bouncy bonus track “Be the One”, the album flows richly. I think it was smart for Ross to release several singles ahead of time, especially songs that are strewn throughout the album. Since these singles aren’t clustered together inside the track list, the album feels familiar with these touchstones along the journey. I don’t know about you, but if I know a few songs on a new album, I warm to it much more quickly.
My favorites are also found throughout the record. “The Apologist” hits early, and it is a winding rock song that feels rather 90s to me, and Simen nails the drums. “Young at Heart” hits in the middle, and has a bit of blues in its soul. I love the off kilter beat, the excellent chorus, and Vikram’s gorgeous piano. I also love all the singles, from the meaty and heavy “Violet” to the quirky “Feelings” to the serious “Catcher in the Rye”. They are all good.
My favorite songs overall come in the last few tracks, though. “Phoenix” is an eleven-minute beauty with celestial piano, handclapping immersion, and a chorus that I find myself singing often. Yet, right after that, comes the single “Grounded”, one of my favorite songs this year. This Floydian track is both jazzy and New Age in tone, and its atmosphere is simply stunning. I love how casual and enlightened it feels, and I also feel like this track contains Ross’ best vocals on the record. Finally, the album closes with “Year”. This song has really grown on me over the last few weeks. It is a subtle song, one with a gentle drive to it, but that drive bows down before the reserved emotions of renewal and hope that I hear in this song. This song really works itself into your soul, it seems, and I can feel and relate to every bit of passion and expression therein.
That may be the strongest suit Ross brings to this album, as well. A Shadow of My Future Self is a very personal record. The emotions are strong, and the lyrics are well-written, whether playfully or introspectively. I really enjoy this album, and my enjoyment is only growing for it. Ross is a man of many styles and of impeccable taste, and I hope fans will embrace this work.
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