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Neal Morse - The Dreamer - Joseph: Part One CD (album) cover


Neal Morse

Symphonic Prog

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3 stars Is Neal Morse trying to emulate Andrew Lloyd-Webber? A few years ago he released a rock opera based on the life of Jesus, now he turns his attention to Joseph (yes, he of the technicolor dreamcoat). So what to make of this latest release?

The first thing to say is that only one member of the Neal Morse band is utilised here. Eric Gillette contributes some drum parts and one guitar solo. Most of the vocalists from Jesus Christ The Exorcist are involved, and I have to pick out Talon David (who sang Mary Magdalene in JCtE) for particular praise. Here she sings the part of Potiphar's wife on three tracks. Slave Boy is the outstanding one for me. If there is any justice in this world, this young lady should have a stellar career. What a voice!

As for the quality of the music, I would put this as middling in Neal's catalogue. Not up to the heights of Sola Scriptura, Question mark and Similitude, or even its predecessor JCtE, but pretty good nonetheless. Top tracks Gold Dust City, Slave Boy and Heaven In Charge Of Hell. Disappointing tracks the Overture and its reprise, it's not one of Neal's best overtures.

The CD only tells half the story, leaving Joseph in prison after being wrongly accused of sexual assault. Part 2 is due out next year.

Report this review (#2946299)
Posted Saturday, August 19, 2023 | Review Permalink
4 stars As is so often the case with Neal, this record - for me - took a few listens for it to fully marinate - much like with Sola Gratia and even TSOAD. In my humble opinion it is yet again a great album of feel-good prog rock.

Before The World Was, Wait on You and the last track are total Morse classics. Such emotive vocals and pleasing chord sequences. Not crazy about a couple of them but you can't have everything! Long live the one semitone down key change! (which has such an epic effect, and was previously used at the end of Sola Gratia after its guitar solo)

Can't wait to see him at Morsefest UK!

Report this review (#2957806)
Posted Friday, October 6, 2023 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
5 stars When I saw the latest Neal Morse solo album was another Christian musical I inwardly groaned, as his 'Jesus Christ The Exorcist' is probably the weakest he has been involved with in all his musical ventures. I have loved his concept albums, both secular and Christian, yet that one managed to fail on so many levels. It may still be a good album but there was just something about which did not gel. Now, I may not be a religious person in any way, but when I was younger I saw my fair share of Christian musicals and loved both 'Godspell' and 'Jesus Christ Superstar', while Neal's own 'Testimony' album is a triumph, so the religious aspect has never worried me, but how would he approach a story made so familiar even to those who do not read the Bible thanks to Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber?

In his own imitable way, that's how. Here we find Neal fully back on form with one of his most powerful concept albums ever, which in places also reminds me of his wonderful 2002 album, 'It's Not Too Late'. That may not be one of his most proggy, recorded mostly by himself with Nick D'Virgilio, but there are bits and pieces here which remind me of that. He, of course, plays the role of Joseph and has been joined by Ted Leonard (Spock's Beard) as Judah, Matt Smith (Theocracy) as Reuben, Jake Livgren (Proto-kaw, Kansas) as the slave driver, Talon David (who appeared on 'Jesus Christ The Exorcist') as Potiphar's Wife, Wil Morse (Neal's son) as Simeon and Mark Pogue as Jacob. Among the musicians are Eric Gillette and Steve Morse, while drummer Gideon Klein also deserves a special mention. This does not feel like one of his more recent solo releases but takes us back to his early solo days when he was full of confidence of having done the right thing of leaving Spock's Beard and surrounding himself with top musicians to produce a series of albums which showed a direct continuation of 'Snow'.

Interestingly, this album has received a variety of different reviews in that some love it while others think it is quite weak, but there is no doubt in my mind that it has put his last Christian opera deeply in the shade and I for one cannot wait for part two. Here is a rock opera full of passion and wonderful complex and complicated prog which is Morse to the core. If you have enjoyed any of his work over the last thirty years, then this is essential.

Report this review (#2968376)
Posted Sunday, November 12, 2023 | Review Permalink
3 stars Being a huge Neal Morse fan, it is with some trepidation that I even write this review, but I also don't want to (at least completely) pigeonholed as reviewing only material that I love. This album seems to be polarizing, but not in the usual, "I don't like the Christian themes" way--instead, I think this album is polarizing because of the music. Specifically, for a concept album, I personally don't think this album holds together particularly well. I'm only slightly familiar with Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, so I'd like to think I'm not particularly biased in any direction in that regard.

First off, when I think of what I like most about Neal's work, my favorite stuff is the grand instrumental themes, which, when teased and supported with other interesting bits that lead to a fantastic crescendo, can rank up there with my favorite musical experiences. Hitting the sweet spot with this approach has obvious potential flaws: too much reliance on repeating or only slightly altered themes, and too much instrumental widdly wankery before you get to the good parts. As you can infer from that, I don't listen to Neal as much for the lyrics, story or concept (although I can feel uplifted by some of the positive, God-affirming moments).

Given that, this album perhaps was not ever going to be for my ears. There are few extended instrumental moments, and the most prominent one (the overture) I would characterize as just mildly interested, and only somewhat melodically linked to what comes later, at best. There is a clear story, and characters, and I find myself thinking about what's happening in the story, and how similar or different a section is to Dreamcoat, rather than just getting lost in good music. Perhaps that part of the intent in Neal's effort here.

Highlights: Before the World Was, Gold Dust City, Ultraviolet Dreams. Aside from the sheer ambition involving numerous guest musicians and vocalists, strings, horns, and multipart vocal harmonies, this album does have some top-notch tunes. Before the World Was is the best of Neal's new gospel trend, and building up to the Steve Morse trademark solo is awesome. Gold Dust City perhaps most effectively merges traditionally good music with the guest vocal and chorus strategy. Finally, Ultraviolet Dreams is another great track, highlighted by some crunchy, memorable guitar from Neal. There are other clear highlights to be found as well, from Talon David's work in Slave Boy (though I don't feel comfortable actually singing this lyric myself, or to picture a young woman seducing much, much older man) to the mega-man harmonies of Heaven in Charge (upwards of 6-parts, perhaps?).

The Dreamer is a great buy, no hesitation, due to the ambition, creativity, and quality production found within. However, it is a story-based album first and foremost, which is certainly fine, but the concept is not strong enough to overcome the uneven quality of the music in the end. Let's see where Part Two goes from here...

Report this review (#2991612)
Posted Thursday, February 15, 2024 | Review Permalink

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