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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Neal Morse

Sola Scriptura

Review by Josh Turner

This album is outstanding. If there was any stronger word to use in its place, I’d have chosen that instead to sanction my approval. I’ve been playing the heck out of this ever since I’ve had it in my hands. My greatest source of conflict is determining whether or not this is better than the last. I must be penitent awhile longer before any judgment can be passed. As the Neanderthal evolved into a human, Neal Morse has come a long way since he has emerged from “The Water.” While that epic piece was motivated by his musical inspiration, the spirit of this album comes straight from the heart. There is purity in his lyrics that is rarely heard these days in music, or even religion for that matter. There is nothing superficial in his verses either. If you think it’s merely his message that’s impressed me, I must tell you that his compositions are as holy as the lord he worships. In terms of any quality or attribute you can ascribe, this grand work is all-encompassing.

Additionally, he conducts his service with at least two incessantly loyal alter boys. On this album, Mike Portnoy’s drums are in top-form while Randy George logs his absolute best on the bass. What’s more, the guitars are better than good. Without having full knowledge of who is involved, or the clarity that comes from a publicist’s cheat sheet, I must take these beliefs on faith. Nevertheless, I can attest that the guitars have the vigor of Kerry Livgren, the serenity of Roine Stolt, and the reliance of his axe-strewn sibling. Whether or not these elite players are actual parties to the crime, if it’s others from his congregation, or it is indeed his flesh-and-blood who contributes, I cannot say. Whoever the brothers-in-arms shall be, they are definitely a worthy component on his quest.

As to the music, it’s packed with caramel goodness, creamy nougat, and a plethora of progressive goobers. Not to mention, it’s loaded with enough religious fervor to get Johnny Virgil to come back. I could give you a verbose analysis or playback his testimony verbatim. Instead, I choose to convey this insightful message: The first song on the disc is not only one of his best; it’s one of the greatest stories ever told. Including all that’s secular and sacred, I’ve never heard anything sung with such palpability, permanence, or purpose. I’d be committing a sin if I didn’t come right out and tell you that there’s never been a song that’s been delivered with such devotion. Furthermore, the sticker on the disc makes me think of Silas from Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. While he delves into expressions apropos to this ill-bred brood, he lets it be known that the extremists are the exception. Whether you’re a Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, or kosher, he’ll enlighten you on what it means to catch the almighty spirit. With that said, let’s consecrate these cuts with my dedicated support of this supremely-divine opus:

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Door
As I said, this could very well be the best religious song ever known to man, and I’d only hesitate after communing and breaking bread with the upcoming trio. While it’s easily the most immaculate soul on this album, the following will make you wonder if he left enough room for dessert. This is the longest one on the album too, but not by a long-shot. Each retreat is relatively obligatory and extensive. As I’m an epic lover, I’m a devout follower of this early sect. By the time we get into his subsequent teachings, he has me hook, line, and singing as well as sold on every bridge and reprisal. This one starts with an overwhelmingly-alluring overture. That makes all the difference in the depth and extent of this radically New Testament. After being showered in an ethereal rain of harmonious pleasure, we’re indulged with goody-goody gospel and a box of confectious gumdrops. There is even a passage that takes us through the core of Kansas, and it’s obvious we have been planted in the heartland of progressive rock. Between the bookends, we’re enlightened and entertained; however, it’s the craftsmanship in its invariable planes that is the most striking to behold.
The Conflict
It starts as hard as a nail struck into the arteries of AudioSlave. If there were ever an indication of an anemic condition, this might be it. Despite this critical comparative analysis, there isn’t a single atrophied muscle in its anatomy. The weakest people in this tribe are still stronger than average. Eventually, the omnipotent arrives and has us quaking in our boots. Without warning, this track turns a corner and floors it in the opposite direction. Before we know it, we’re suddenly supplanted inside the axis of a gyroscope. This extraordinary boogie would make Snow White quiver, or the Falconer, the Scarecrow, and the Snowman turn pale. In reverse, we go from “Snow’s Night Out” to “Stranger in a Strange Land” to “Señor Velasco.” These are themes we’re used to hearing from Mr. Morse, yet they’re sharp as a tack in this piece. The piano interlude is one of his finest and it’s accompanied by countless thrills and oodles of flair. The wrap-up is as moral and lavish as a convincingly-bona-fide faux fur. With this one in the can, that makes two righteous ditties down and two upright tunes to go.
Heaven in My Heart
I’d sooner expect this from Josh Groban than Neal Morse. This is a song fit for a world-class tenor. Yet, Morse’s take on his composition is beyond compare. As usual, he can do with the middle register what most can’t do with an operatically-inclined voice. Since this song is much shorter than the rest, I’ll end my transgressions right here.
The Conclusion
Before the conclusion of this sacramental album, a couple more miracles are anointed upon the listener. We are blessed with important reprisals and penetrating prayers. This constitutes a significant mix of the old and the new with too many messages for a single orator to recite. Somehow, he successfully manages to transfer a great deal of meaning in the compact pouch of this succinctly-packed satchel. Much wisdom will be mind-melded with any free-thinker who will accept delivery. It’s a superhuman feat that’s suited for a Vulcan if you ask me. Each section is quite distinct from the next, and it’s impressive how he expertly splices them together. The glorious chorus exalted upon us by the choir is enough to convert a cynic. After my conference with this cleric, I now believe in the existence of an everlasting psalm. This goes beyond the lyrical scripture since the instruments groan and growl with zeal. The bass is as grizzly as a Samuel Adams stout while the keyboards are as good as a rich, creamy Guinness. This incredible combination makes me think of Clive Nolan and John Jowitt in a fabled battle for our attention. Aspects of this song even bind disparate nations together by marrying the magnificent Transatlantic to the reluctant IQ. Couple that with the fact that it harks the herald angels of Procal Harum in its procession. It’s lionized like the first if only a little more laconic. Long and short, this song is nearly perfect.
 
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