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!
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.
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.
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.