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Neal Morse - One CD (album) cover

ONE

Neal Morse

 

Symphonic Prog

4.11 | 365 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars After being pleasantly surprised by the high quality of "?" I was moved to get Neal's "One" from 2004 and I have to report that it, too, is excellent. I worried slightly that the two albums might sound a lot alike but that isn't the case. They are distinctly different. I continue to be amazed by Mr. Morse's admirable composition and multiple- instrument skills. As a progressive writer he always comes up with memorable themes and inventive arrangements. Of course it helps greatly to have the incredible Mike Portnoy and the more than competent Randy George as the rhythm section. If I have a criticism it's the confusing lyric narrative but I'll point that out as the review progresses.

"The Creation" starts things off in a positive way with the sprawling symphonic "One Mind" theme that leads to an exhilarating drum performance by Portnoy. "In a Perfect Light" depicts the original man living in the perfect realm of Eden, portrayed musically by roiling cellos underneath a Rhodes piano and featuring a stellar guitar solo by guest Phil Keaggy. "Where are You?" introduces a much darker mood as God looks for Adam and then, after another fantastic drum-led section, gets angry over his disobedience and evicts him from the Garden. "Reaching from the Heart" finds man filled with regret as we hear a wistful return to the original theme. "The Man's Gone" is a classy acoustic piece that describes man now living outside of the grace of God and having to make it on his own. "Author of Confusion" is a fitting musical expression of Lucifer's presence in man's psyche with some hard rocking guitar riffs followed by a carnival-from-Hell atmosphere that features a slurring Mellotron, giving the listener the sensation of walking through a house of mirrors. Then comes the most unique moment on the album with a very jazzy and intricate vocal harmony section. I haven't heard anything like this in progressive rock ever and it is very effective. A Rhodes-propelled respite lyrically describes what I suppose is God asking man "How long 'til you reach for me at last?" and that's where the story gets a bit confusing. (Is He not the one who irately tossed Adam out on his ear?) Anyway, the jazzy vocals return and we are treated to Portnoy tearing it up brilliantly as the song comes to an end. Mike is a monster.

"The Separated Man" starts with the self-explanatory "I'm in a Cage" which is an excellent rock song on its own. "I am the Man" introduces a sort of Babylonian eastern feel that is quite refreshing and the musicians really make it work as yet another inspired musical theme is introduced. Here man boasts about his material accomplishments and God answers with a "'Till you come home I won't let you rest" refrain. (Again, isn't He the one who put Adam on the road and far away from home in the first place?) What follows is one of the best parts of the album. A reprise of "The Man's Gone" leads to an instrumental passage that is marvelous. Keaggy contributes a stunning acoustic and electric guitar lead that makes me want to hear more from this exciting artist. I have to inject here that Neal's overall guitar work is on the up and up, too. He's no slouch by any means. "Something within me remembers" ends this section with man vaguely recalling that there was a time when he "was a part of everything." What follows is an absolutely drop-dead-gorgeous tune called "Cradle to the Grave" which is a sort of conversation between man and God describing their dilemma of being estranged. Keaggy adds his vocal to the song and his soothing tone reminds me of Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. When the chorus comes in behind them the tune literally levitates and is the high point of the album.

"Help Me/The Spirit and the Flesh" picks the pace back up with an infectious Spanish rhythmic feel. Morse's acoustic and electric guitar work is notable here. A flowing piano section draws us into the second half of the song as God answers man's desperate call for help by sending Christ. Riding heavy, driving music we progress to the big ending of the tune that features the original theme. "Father of Forgiveness" has an obvious parable of the prodigal son reference that starts slowly, then builds to a chorale-led ending. "Reunion" is an expression of man and God coming together as "one" again with a Chicago horn section-like atmosphere. It is a somewhat predictable song of rejoicing that is very enthusiastically performed. In the second part, "Grand Finale," Mike Portnoy again puts on a clinic that Gene Krupa would be proud of and makes your heart race. I am now convinced that the boy can expertly play any style of music there is. "Make us One" ends the proceedings with an orchestral return to the main theme and a fitting piano coda. At almost 80 minutes of music you might expect a few moments of tedium here and there but there really isn't. I never got bored for a second.

If you enjoy symphonic prog and have yet to get on board with Neal Morse (as well as his previous work with Spock's Beard) then I encourage you to give him a try. His more recent spiritual themes can be confusing at times but he is rarely "preachy" and the music is always top notch and very intelligently written and engineered. I look forward to more from him in the years to come.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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