Neal Morse for those who don't know: former failed singer/songwriter who suddenly found a career in prog rock (Spock's Beard), then got religion, left, and now has a solo "Christian prog rock" career with Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) on drums.
This, his latest, is as religious as ever, but also perhaps more musical than ever before.
Four songs, 29:14, 25:00, 5:10 and 16:34.
The theme: Martin Luther (not the civil rights guy, the other one) and his 95 theses.
Less guests than the last release, but what a guest: Paul Gilbert himself adds some spectacular solos to the first two songs, plus some flamenco-ish magic to one.
The music - well, people familiar with Neal's work will recognise familiar single note riffs for the heavier sections (the first part of track 2 is as heavy as he's ever been, and a nasty vocal!), interspaced with vocal lines backed by relatively little instrumentation, slower vocal passages with keys, and big harmony sections. He tends to write fairly straightforward melodies, but link them via complex instrumentals, often with a keyboard melody. Expect loads of tempo changes, and orchestral interludes.
One thing apparent: Neal's got even better at playing. His keyboards are more complex than ever, almost matching some of the stuff Jordan Rudess played on his last album (?). His guitar has improved too, and he's using the wah well (especially in track 1). A nice bluesy feel. In fact, his guitar sound is far better than on past albums, a weakness he's admitted to previously.
Track 3 is kind of a "power ballad" (think "Alone" progged up and sung by a Bryan Adams sound-alike), which I guess didn't quite fit into the other 3 tracks so he separated it.
Track 4 gives the bass player (Randy George - not heard of him outside Neal's stuff but he's good) a bit of a work-out, goes through some more prog hystrionics, before ending with a big climax my wife calls "Jurassic Park music". Not quite as good as the other two epics, more proclamatory stuff (the big "tadaa!!" at the end), similar to the finale on ?.
So overall, a good prog album for people who like early Genesis, Floyd, Yes, ELP, perhaps Gentle Giant, with a modern touch (ie. heavier in places) - and a good dose of ol' time religion.
Although you don't have to listen to the words.
Classic Rock Magazine gave it 8/10, which says something.
on 29 April 2007
This was my introduction to Neal Morse, following some recommendations from friends. I love this, it is pure prog rock that alternates between hard rock and gorgeous melody. Great guitar, great piano and keyboards, great vocals and music you'll find difficult to forget! The only warning is: if you don't like religious lyrics, don't get it, it's a religious concept album. But, if you're not offended by that, don't let it put you off, it's terrific.
on 28 February 2007
This is heavier than previous efforts and has longer tracks, three long epics and one short one. Mr Morse is a very good song writer and if you can get past the many religous lyrics, some may like this, then you are onto a winner. This new cd is more like Spocks Beards output and guest drummer Mr Portney is on top form. I strongly reccomend this cd if you like Spocks Beard, Dream Theater and Transatlantic. Ian Picken.London.
on 6 March 2007
Ummmm yeah so i registered this name a long time ago under my mom. I'm not Judy, I'm her son. :)
This is an amazing CD, and it's much heavier than Morse's previous efforts. Lyrically, it sounds (though I really need to read the lyrics)much better than ?. ? really annoyed me, because it was the third record where he had a bunch of phrases like "God doesn't like me anymore" "God doesn't want me" "God left me alone" or whatever, and then, by the end he turns it around, and is like "Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus". Testimony was AWESOME lyrically, cus it was the first one to do it. One was good (the best musically, and my favorite), ? got really old fast.
Here, he takes a bit of a different approach and I didn't really hear any "God hates me, God loves me" lyrics anymore.
The first two songs are awesome, with both sounding a little like Dream Theater in the prog metal vein. The second track is probably my favorite track he's ever made other than The Separated Man/ all that other stuff in the 17 min. track. It's got awesome metal stuff, and for once on a prog record we hear some amazing fingerpicking (I think it was Morse)in the classicaly vein, before Gilbert comes in and does some awesome Flemenco type shredding that we hear Petrucci do from time to time.
The vocal melodies are great too. Then we come to the third track, which is a ballad like I am Willing and Cradle to the Grave except i don't like it quite as well. I am Willing had a great solo, was overall just more emotional, and Cradle to the Grave had the very memorable Keaggy duet. This doesn't have any memorable thing, but it's still nice.
The last track I don't really like. Maybe I will later, but it recycles TOO MUCH from the previous tracks, and there's hardly anything new on it (I understand the need to do that to make the record feel coherent, but this is just TOO MUCH). Plus it sounds wayy too much like every Neal Morse song, there's really nothing new in it. So if I listen to the record, I'll probably just not listen to the last track. Take away the last 16 minutes, and it's still an unbelievably awesome record.
Gilbert was the best guest he's had so far, with an emotional solo at the end of the first track, that competes well w/Petrucci's emotional stuff, and some awesome shredding in the second one along with the Flemenco bit. Cya guy's later, hope this helped.
on 8 October 2007
I'm not a religious person, and have found Neal's previous solo outings to be a little bit too preachy for my personal tastes, but with this one? Wow! and Wow! again, for effect. If the album only had one track, the 29 minute opus The Door, then it would be still worth it, but you get 3 other stupendous tracks thrown in...for free. My album of the year so far, and I doubt it will be beaten. When I hear Paul Gilbert's solo kick in on the 27th minute of The Door, the beauty of it is nearly enough to convince this old atheist that their might be a g_d. If you like progressive rock, hell if you like any musical genre, do yourself a favour and search out a copy of Sola Scriptura, or as i'm now calling it, Sola Musica...'By Music Alone'.
on 20 April 2007
You can't knock Neal Morse. Work with Transatlantic is awesome, and he is now producing solo work of some note. Musically ? was very good, but perhaps just a bit repetitive for my liking. This, I am pleased to say, is not. It opens with The Door (ouch) and you have to wonder where the 26 + minutes go. Classic Neal Morse, and some great guitar work, too. Personally, I think this is the best track, but the others will not disappoint. Don't be put off too much by the religeous nature of Morse's work, because the music makes it. Possibly his best solo album to date - and better than all the Spock's Beard albums, with the exception of Snow.
on 6 June 2007
Neal has really delivered a masterpiece here. I must admit that whilst I relish long tracks I do find them harder to digest and this album is replete with them. However the music is very accessible whilst having multiple layers to experience on each consecutive listen.
Neal has gone very heavy on this album but with purpose as the lyrical content is definitely about a struggle which can be heard in the words.
Whilst I did appreciate the guest guitar appearences on One and ?, I felt they were superflous, but on Testimony and this album the contributions really stand out. Kevin Gilbert shreds the guitar and it really fits the songs hand to glove and is not just a showcase, his contributions are really appreciated.
There is some harking back to older tracks which make for the Neal Morse signature but the album is staying very fresh for me after several listens and I am looking forward to the concert in the UK. I just love that opening riff on the Conflict.
Neal is back and rocks, and the album is a great testimony to the life of Martin Luther.
Sit back and enjoy!
It's quite nice to have the pressure of deciding what my album of the year is going to be taken off my shoulders os early in the year. There'll be none of that faffing around come December umming and awing over so-so albums with a handful of good tracks scattered across them. For this is both the Dogs and the Bollocks. 'Nuff said.
Of course, churlish knaves that you are, you will be wanting a few more details, instead of doffing your caps in deference, taking my word for it, scraping together your florins and scuttling off to buy it like you should. Gits. So, Mr Morse has been on an upward curve over the last few years. Ever since leaving Spock's Beard, a band I can leave or take, Neal has slowly been putting together a stunning selection of albums, each one striving for perfection. And he keeps on getting closer. "Testimony", "One" and, especially, "?" should never be far from your ceedee players. OK, the covers album was a covers album but even that had the most sublime version of 'Can't Find My Way Home' on it. So how can he keep cranking up the classometer?
Well, naturally you've got Dream Theater bod Mike Portnoy banging away on drums, but this time Neal has brought in former Racer X / Mr Big guitarist Paul Gilbert to do all the widdly bits, something that has notched up the performance levels above and beyond the sharp intake of breath that was "?". It also means that the rawk has been notched up to the levels of the prog, particularly on 'The Conflict'.
In case you're wondering what the subject matter is this time, Neal has taken the easy way out and went for the 95 theses written by Martin Luther, rejecting the practices of the church that he felt were in conflict with Biblical scriptures. Which is why the album is called "Sola Scriptura" - the Latin for only according to the scriptures. Opening track 'The Door' is a mere 29 minutes long, takes in more musical ideas than you'll find in an entire Top 20 of albums, and features some stunning guitar battles between Gilbert and Morse. Frankly, it's as stunning a half hour of music as you'll hear this year, and would be worthy of album of the year all by itself.
You also get 25 minutes of 'The Conflict' and 16 minutes of 'The Conclusion', so I wouldn't be taking any holidays anytime soon as the CD stretches to 75 minutes and 58 seconds. How Morse can keep on coming up with so much incredibly good music is beyond me. Unless there is something in that whole divine inspiration thing. Oh, and if you've been doing some mental arithmetic, yes that does leave 5 minutes or so to spare, which is reserved for a classic prog power ballad in the shape of 'Heaven In My Heart', a delightful song that could have easily come of a John Elefante solo album.
Awesome, breathtaking, insert your own adjective here, this is why music was invented.
on 25 September 2008
This is one of my favourite albums since dream theaters 6' of inner turbulence. And as much as I hate to do it, track one and two of this album could quite easily be compared to such a masterpiece as 6'.
There are 4 tracks on the album. Three of them are between 20 minutes and half an hour, making this a serious progressive rock album, even more so than 'one' and 'question'. Track one starts off with a long instrumental which sets the balance of the album and its loose structure. Eventually the song gets into gear and progresses through a number of acousticy Ballad moments, plenty of fancy riffing and jamming and a kick butt guitar solo towards the end. Apparently Neal delves into the subject of Martin Luther in this album, but in certain parts I can tell he's talking a lot about his own personal struggles and journey. Being a Christian I love the fact that Neal is so committed to basing his music on the gospel now, but I also like the fact that he doesn't preach as such, just talks about his own personal journey which is great. Towards the end of track one the final soft ballad comes into place, neal messes about with the wah wah which makes a great effect while he sings about how can he stay quiet when he knows the truth. In comes the violin and piano and eventually an climatic emotional build up to an amazing solo by guest guitarist Paul Gilbert from MR Big. It really is impossibly beautiful and emotive, words can't express. By the time you get to the end of track one, you can't believe there's more to come on the album, and what a treat you're in for. Where track one offers plenty of variety on melodies, guitar riffs and lyrical composure's, track two covers a vast variety of music genres. It starts with a rocking intro with another amazing input by Paul and eventually leads into some pop rocky bits and then a random spanish/reggae section that takes you completely by surprise. Track two is by no means any worse than track one. Track three is a nice little track without much intrumental accompaniment and track four is much of the same as the first two. So there you go. I think mike Portnoy on the drums makes so much of the album and Paul Gilbert rocking out some cool licks adds that harder rocking element that's missed in Neals previous efforts. Overall I would say that song wise, here are two of the best songs I've ever heard except for 6'. Album wise, this is Neals best work I would say. If you've never explored Neals work before this is a good place to start. Go out and buy this album if you like good music!
on 26 August 2010
I have no idea why it took me so long to buy this fantastic CD, my first foray into Neal Morse's solo work.
Not many records have had a similar impact on me recently, perhaps only IQ's excellent "Frequency".
Many a musician in the current prog scene and beyond could do with a dose of Neal's uncanny ability to knock out a striking melody and meaningful lyrics. And he can play too.
The standout tacks are opening epic "The Door" and the closing "Conclusion" - simply majestic.
A word about the religious themes and lyrics which some listeners appear to object to. Well, I say you don't have to share Neal's world view or religious convictions to appreciate his music. And on this record its not that much in your face, perhaps only on Track 3 is it a little overdone. On the contrary, I often find the naff faux aggression of some Prog Metal acts and their predictable lyrics annoying and far less imaginative.
I can't recommend Sola Scriptura highly enough. I'm off to investigate Neal's other CDs.