A little extra time may come in handy to finish a project or even start a new one. For Ross Jennings, a pandemic-enforced break from his usual touring and recording patterns afforded him the opportunity to go a step further and reinvent himself as an artist. Not that one would have thought a re-invention was necessary, with Haken continuing to ascend the prog-metal charts and Novena having recently released “Eleventh Hour”. Happily, there’s more to Jennings than the scope of these bands allows for; “A Shadow of My Future Self” unleashes his skills in a wide terrain of songwriting while also revealing his considerable command of the guitar. Supported by an impressive core band, the quality and quantity of material here-in comes as a welcome revelation. Jennings has crafted an exceptional release which deftly toggles between classic rock, pop and even folk. His future self has clearly come out of the shadows with this confident debut.
Opener “Better Times” feels like an appropriate way to begin the journey. Accompanied primarily by his strummed acoustic guitar, Jennings’ melodic vocal lines rise and fall with a relaxed natural grace. The lyrics “I’m moving on to greater things, to focus on the victories” may follow its own story line but they also feel like an apt proclamation for launching this solo journey. Subtle slide guitar playing in the background evokes a Neil Young feel and perhaps alludes to his upcoming project with Neal Morse and Nick D’Virgilio. It’s a perfect way to start but is only offered for a moment; the subsequent “Words We Can’t Unsay” propels us into a world of 80s pop rock, the antithesis to the simple acoustic opener. But it works. A keyboard-heavy arrangement – courtesy of the talented Vikram Shankar – is buoyed by a pleasing brass solo section, making for the first of many potential pop-singles from the album.
After a promising build-up from those first two tracks, “Violet” is where Jennings truly hits it out of the park. This radio-ready rocker has all the right moves, from its sax squealing opening to its staccato verses, throwing in some jazzy chords alongside the rocking guitar, punchy drumming from Simen Sandnes, to its completely fulfilling stacked vocals. An enthralling piece which is taken a step further via its Sledgehammer’ish video. The album then reaches its most aggressive with “The Apologist”, letting bassist Nathan Navarro get busy on his scorching runs and giving Haken fans something to sink their teeth into. Jennings gets to stretch out on an atmospheric guitar solo while Sandnes pounds away underneath. Still, the chorus is smooth, gliding through as a balm to soothe the surrounding chaos. “Rocket Science” and “Feelings” continue a run of pop-infused sensibilities on the album, the former’s atmospheric opening guitar notes providing the backdrop for the lyrics “Run away, run away like the coward I am,” while the latter achieves one of the album’s catchiest choruses and certainly the most brilliant accompanying video.
The softer side of the album comes out on several tracks, Jennings’ lyrical vocals on “Catcher In the Rye” beautifully conveying the appreciation for a friend who has passed, even as the chorus feels triumphant. The acoustic “Since That Day” and “Third Degree” sound like they could be found on a 90s indie band’s album, their pared-down arrangements highlighting the strengths of Jennings’ voice and melodic sensibilities. Shankar’s orchestrations subtly elevate this approach, demonstrating how these talented musicians give the material just what each piece needs rather than over-playing.
Three longer tracks are included, all successful in their own right. The spiritually-attuned “Grounded” is the most prog-oriented of the lot, its atmospheric approach obviously touching on a Floyd-tinged inspiration. When the song takes two minutes to pedal on one chord, Jørgen Lund Karlsen’s sax solo can’t come soon enough. Deeply satisfying. Another highlight of the album, “Young At Heart” opens with a bluesy refrain, providing a nice contrast to what has come before. It subsequently shifts into several hook-laden vocal sections, in addition to a blistering guitar solo before finally resolving with lovely jazz piano runs from Shankar. Finally, despite a 12-minute running time and an enigmatic title, the song “Phoenix” isn’t a full-on prog epic as one might expect. Although it does contain a brief Genesis-y “Cinema Show” jam section, the majority of the song carries an anthemic atmosphere throughout, including an a cappella community chorus, replete with hand clapping and positive sentiments such as “to heal the earth, to spread the love and distribute the wealth”. As the chorus proclaims “It takes courage to extinguish the flame from the ashes of your burning past”, this feels like a triumphant climax of the album even though a few more songs follow.
Although “Phoenix” didn’t get to finish the album, “Year” also seems like an appropriate closer, both due to its lyrical content and the repeating guitar drone pattern which satisfyingly gets pounded by Sandnes for a brief time. This brings the album to an end in a somewhat evocative manner. Or, does it? Punchy bonus song “Be The One” pops up afterwards and wouldn’t you know…it’s another great song. However, at this point the embarrassment of riches reveals perhaps the only flaw of the album: too much material. To its credit, the album is all killer with no filler, so there’s no obvious songs to edit out. But at a running time double of most pop rock albums of this nature, there is an aspect of too much a good thing, no matter how well-written, produced and performed. The reality is that Jennings actually had to hold back additional material for this debut. All of which suggests that Jennings has the potential to launch a full-blown solo career alongside his established bands. Indeed, based on this overflowing solo release, he owes it to himself and his audience to develop his considerable skills further, even as he continues to successfully front Haken and Novena. This is more than a solo project, this is the birth of a career.
Released by: Graphite Records
Released on: November 19th, 2021
Genre: Pop-Progressive Rock
- Ross Jennings / Vocals
- Simen Sandnes / Drums
- Nathan Navarro / Bass
- Vikram Shankar / Piano, Keyboards & Orchestral Arrangement
- Jørgen Lund Karlsen / Sax
“A Shadow Of My Future Self” Track-listing:
1. Better Times 4:09
2. Words We Can’t Unsay 5:04
3. Violet 5:30
4. The Apologist 4:56
5. Rocket Science 4:15
6. Catcher in the Rye 5:19
7. Since That Day 3:25
8. Young At Heart 8:14
9. Feelings 4:57
10. Third Degree 4:35
11. Phoenix 11:15
12. Grounded 8:03
13. Year 4:56
14. Be The One (Bonus Track) 3:26
“A Shadow Of My Future Self” is available for pre-order here.
While many-a-band’s lead singers have offered solo projects over the years, Jennings’ debut confidently establishes him as an artist in his own right with the potential to chart whichever course he wishes in the future. Diverse, engaging, expertly performed and produced, “A Shadow of My Future Self” is one of 2021’s true gems.