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Neal Morse - The Neal Morse Band: The Great Adventure CD (album) cover


Neal Morse


Symphonic Prog

3.92 | 292 ratings

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Rock Progressivo Italiano!
5 stars I believe there are a few definitive moments in the course of a person's music listening. For me, the first one came in 1981 when at the age of 12 I discovered a copy of the recent Yes album, 'Drama', in my uncle's LP collection. Intrigued by the cover, I put it on and never looked back through the prog gates that had been blown open by 'Machine Messiah'.

Then almost 20 years ago I was looking for prog on the internet and found the Gnosis2000 website, and when I looked at the highest rated albums they were by Italian bands I'd never heard of. What?! Better than Yes, Genesis, and King Crimson? I bought 'Per un Amico' and 'Darwin' and realized there is a wonderful prog world outside of English- speaking countries--especially Italy.

A few years after that, I heard Neal Morse's 'One' album, and I was floored. I had really enjoyed his 'Testimony' album and the Transatlantic and Spock's Beard I had heard, but 'One' just took it to another level for me. Not only the musicianship and songwriting, but to write about the concept of separation from and return to divinity, with all of its symbolism--well that was Prog Heaven, and another defining moment for me in my music listening life.

So imagine my surprise when two years ago, the Neal Morse Band released 'The Similitude of a Dream', which I like even better than 'One'! It has since become my favorite album post 1970s, and is a contender for top spot overall. Again, the combination of musicianship (taken to a completely different level with the addition of Eric Gillette and Bill Hubauer to the solid core of Mike Portnoy and Randy George, and of course Neal) with songwriting and concept is just incredible. The album is based on the first several chapters of 'A Pilgrim's Progress' by John Runyan, which describes a man's journey from the City of Destruction to Heaven, having to overcome many obstacles along the way.

The tour for the album was unlike anything Neal had ever done, playing the album all around the world for most of 2017. So when the band got together again in the beginning of 2018 to record the next album, they all knew they didn't want to do a double concept album, and definitely not a follow up to 'Similitude'. How could you follow that? The initial writing and recording sessions resulted in a single demo album filled with good songs, but things were unsettled. Neal decided to follow his gut (again) and rewrote and expanded the music they had recorded, and with some trepidation shared this concept album consisting of two and a half hours of music to the rest of the band. They were on board!

The resulting album is entitled 'The Great Adventure'--another double concept album, a sequel to 'The Similitude of a Dream'! The concept centers on Joseph, the son of the protagonist of 'Similitude', who is angry that his father left him and his family in the City of Destruction. He decides to go after his father and faces many challenges of his own along the way. Musical and concept themes from the first album are woven seamlessly into this one, enriching it both musically and lyrically.

In fact, his treatment of music themes is one of the strongest skills of Neal's songwriting, and the Neal Morse Band continues and strengthens this compositional technique. These themes are often used as Wagnerian leitmotifs, bringing to mind a particular character or situation--but then they are turned on their heads, upside down, backwards, different speeds, every way possible. Trying to decipher the themes is one of the joys of discovering this music. For example, on this album the main theme is 'A Love that Never Dies.' The album begins with a short reprise of the final theme of 'Similitude', when this new theme immediately appears. Then it recurs in some form in at least seven more songs (I'm sure I've missed some), then closes the album, along with a companion theme 'To the River'. Another example: a lovely acoustic guitar melody in 'Long Ago' turns into a blistering Eric Gillette riff in 'Welcome to the World 2'--you have to listen hard to pick it out, but it's there.

Here are a couple examples of Neal taking a music theme and turning it using lyrics. Toward the beginning of the album, the 'To the River' theme has these lyrics:

To the river am going, with my sadness and despair. All my questions I bring with me-- I hope to find the answers there.

Then at the end of the album, when Joseph reaches the River and realizes that he must cross over to find his Father, he sings:

To the river I am going, coming 'cross that great divide. Mourn not for me, for I entering To a love that never dies.

One more--when Joseph introduces himself and shares his anger and bitterness, he says that when he complains the people around him say:

Welcome to the world! Where the struggle is real, and you know it feels to beg, plead or borrow. Welcome to the world! Where dreams come to die, and the innocent cry cuz there ain't no tomorrow.

Then when Joseph makes the decision to follow after his father in 'To the River', voices sing:

Welcome to the world! Where souls come to fly, and there is no goodbye cuz there ain't no tomorrow. Welcome to the world! Where the illusion is real, let life you can feel wash away all our sorrow.

But as talented as Neal is with themes, he also excels at writing memorable songs. In fact several of the albums in his discography are singer-songwriter albums, not prog--and they're very good! The most recent example is last year's "Life and Times". Memorable songs are the core of Neal's prog albums as well, of course expanded and embellished and treated with complexity and dexterity--but memorable songs nonetheless. You will never finish a Neal Morse album and not walk away with a few hooks floating around in your head, and that includes this one. A great example is the title track, one of the singles they released prior to the album, available to check out on YouTube. Listen to that and you will hear a great song with excellent hooks--and of course the instrumental break will more than satisfy any symphonic prog fan.

The bottom line is I really love this album! They have built upon the strengths of each band member, and this album sounds even more like a collaborative effort. And how does this stack up to 'Similitude'? It is at least as good, if not better! I didn't think that was possible going into it, knowing it was a sequel. But after living with this album for a while (thanks to Neal for providing an advance copy!), I can safely say that this is one of the great ones, that I will never tire of listening and discovering. There's so much here to enjoy! Five stars (Gnosis 15/15)

Todd | 5/5 |


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