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Neal Morse

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Neal Morse Sola Gratia album cover
3.89 | 144 ratings | 6 reviews | 25% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 2020

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Preface (1:28)
2. Overture (5:59)
3. In the Name of the Lord (4:27)
4. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones) (2:43)
5. March of the Pharisees (1:40)
6. Building a Wall (5:01)
7. Sola Intermezzo (2:10)
8. Overflow (6:27)
9. Warmer Than the Sunshine (3:22)
10. Never Change (7:52)
11. Seemingly Sincere (9:34)
12. The Light on the Road to Damascus (3:26)
13. The Glory of the Lord (6:17)
14. Now I Can See / The Great Commission (5:17)

Total Time 65:43

Bonus DVD includes "The Making of Sola Gratia Documentary" (61:10)

Line-up / Musicians

- Neal Morse / keyboards, guitar, vocals, drums (6), percussion

- Mike Portnoy / drums (1-5,7-14)
- Randy George / bass
- Eric Gillette / guitar (2,3,13)
- Bill Hubauer / piano
- Gideon Klein / cello, viola, bass
- Josee Weigand / violin, viola
- Amy Pippin, April Zachary, Debbie Bresee, Julie Harrison, Wil Morse / backing vocals

Releases information

Cover: Thomas Ewerhard
Label: InsideOut
Formats: CD, limited CD/DVD Digipak, gatefold 2LP+CD, Digital album
September 11, 2020

Thanks to projeKct for the addition
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Buy NEAL MORSE Sola Gratia Music

NEAL MORSE Sola Gratia ratings distribution

(144 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(25%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(45%)
Good, but non-essential (21%)
Collectors/fans only (6%)
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)

NEAL MORSE Sola Gratia reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Aussie-Byrd-Brother
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Former Spock's Beard frontman Neal Morse is hardly a slacker! A constant stream of studio works and live recordings pop up every year from the talented multi-instrumentalist, and 2020's `Sola Gratia' keeps up that momentum, recorded remotely away from his regular musical collaborators and in isolation during this oh so blessed of years! Sarcasm aside, it's another superb set from the composer, especially if you're a fan, and all the punchy symphonic prog arrangements, catchy tunes, elegant orchestration, rich harmonies, dynamic instrumental passages and faith-based lyrics the artist is known for are all accounted for here.

`Sola Gratia' compliments Morse's 2007 release `Sola Scriptura', which focused on an important figure in Christian faith history, sixteenth century German theologian Martin Luther. This time, Morse goes back even further and conveys the story of the apostle Paul (Saul), who initially participated in the persecution of early followers of the Christian movement in Jerusalem, before his later spiritual awakening and conversion.

While the basic instrumental structure of the disc is comparable to his other solo works, `...Gratia', like its 2007 predecessor, frequently has heavier and more bombastic touches worked in, with several passages of tougher guitars and constantly wilder vocals from the artist. But having said that, it might also have the greatest amount of tender and gentle moments as well. Morse is in impeccable form as ever (he really is one of the finest and most versatile modern keyboardists), but the return of his frequent collaborators, particularly ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Randy George, all give the album the instrumental power and technical finesse that prog fans crave.

Between grand symphonic themes, recurring instrumental motifs and winning reprises that pop up throughout, there's crunchy rockers like `In the Name of the Lord', and `Seemingly Sincere' (dig the muscular instrumental middle section in this one!), and tenderly soulful ballads in the dreamy `Overflow' (could almost be a Transatlantic - a Morse side-project - outtake), `The Glory of the Lord' and the Pink Floyd flavoured album highlight `Never Change' that are a Morse mainstay. Morse's Beatles influences sneak into `Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones)', spirited backing vocalists are put to good use around the raucous grooves of `Building a Wall' by bringing a chanted choir response, and Gentle Giant fans will love the frantic run-around of `Warmer Than the Sunshine'.

Throughout, there are fleeting touches of call-backs to themes, lyrics and arrangements from `Sola Scriptura' to bring a sense of cohesion and continuity here, and fans will have a great time scratching their heads trying to recall what originally popped up and where on that one! Another highlight is that any prog album that prompts further research into its subject matter only enriches the work and helps the listener appreciate it on a deeper level, and `...Gratia', like its predecessor, is ripe for study and research. Believer or atheist, it's still interesting to delve into a fascinating part of history.

There is, however, a case to be made for the argument question of `How long can Neal Morse keep remaking the same album over and over?'. He has mostly followed the same blueprint described above ever since departing his former band and commencing solo duty with 2003's `Testimony', even if it is absolutely a formula that he completely excels at. If a newcomer curious about his music were to ask for a particular album recommendation, you could easily pick any one of his prog-styled solo albums from `Testimony' through to this one and they'd be rewarded with a winner, because they all sound very similar, and they are more-or-less all as superb as each-other.

So, can `Sola Gratia' be recommended? To make use of a Simpsons quote - "Yes' with an `if...', `no' with a `but..."! Yes, it's literally more of the same from the artist and won't offer any new surprises, but taken on its own merits, it's still a superb example of melodic prog-rock with a ton of the variety that Morse does so well, and despite the sixty-five minute running time, constant re-spins reveal a fairly compact set that flows together effortlessly. If you're a fan and are happy with the artist simply playing to his strengths and delivering exactly what is expected of him, or if you're a curious new listener wanting a good introduction to his approach, `Sola Gratia' proves to be just another winning example of melodic modern prog from a skilled and intelligent artist.

Four stars.

Review by kev rowland
4 stars While the title of this album obviously has links back to 2007's 'Sola Scriptura', which was about the life of Martin Luther, and this is about the apostle Paul, it is actually all due to a misunderstanding. Morse says, "I was talking to my wife Cherie about debuting this new piece at Morsefest 2020 (Morse's annual fan convention in Nashville) and she said she thought it would be good for me to do a solo album. However, I thought she said, 'Sola album' and ? because some of the new ideas involved Paul's aggressive pursuit of the early Christians, I could see a link to some of the themes of persecution in 'Sola Scriptura'." Unlike his other albums, this was recorded virtually due to lockdowns, with Randy George and Mike Portnoy remotely adding their parts to the basic tracks, without any rearrangements, which is why this led to being credited to Neal Morse and not The Neal Morse Band. Normally the whole band works together on the writing, and while Eric Gillette plays some guitar and Bill Hubauer keyboards, neither provided any input to the composition nor do they sing.

Mind you, given that Neal is a multi-instrumentalist who is as happy on keyboards as he is on guitar, that is not really an issue when it comes to putting together an album. This finds him very much in his element, telling a Christian story but in his own way, with all the bombast and bluster that one expects from him. After the disappointment of the theatrical 'Jesus Christ The Exorcist', and the fun compilation 'Cov3r To Cov3r', here is a composer and performer very much back on form. While it may not have the emotional power of 'Testimony', it is unlikely that will ever come again as it was such an incredible outpouring (being at his London show on that tour is something I will never forget), it certainly demonstrates he is very much back in his element. He has moved on from the overtly Spock's Beard style which came through his early solo albums, as one would expect, and he had broadened the approach so while he provides plenty of bombast at times, and wonderful proggy interludes there are also some great singalongs with "Building A Wall" possibly being one of his most overtly commercial songs for some time.

I have been a fan of Neal since I first heard 'The Light' and have been lucky enough to interview him a few times and seen him play both with the Beard and solo. This album is an absolute delight for fans like me and one which will regularly return to the player.

Review by Flucktrot
4 stars I almost thought of this as a 5-star...I really did! First off, it's not really a great sequel (prequel?) to Sola Scriptura, in that when Sola melodies are introduced, they do seem a bit forced, and they are largely limited to interludes. Having said that, this album--to me--represents a milestone in terms of comparing where Neal was 15 years ago to where he is now. Back them, he was hungry with the spirit, driving very creative and energetic writing. Now, he may still be as hungry with the spirit, but the tenor has changed, at least to my ears. Rather than browbeating the world into seeing his light, he is more accepting and understanding. The goal is still to lift glory to God, but the method seems different.

Thematic storytelling in music is risky. Rick Wakeman's versions? No thanks. Neal's story of Saul's conversion from Christian slaughterer to Jesus disciple? It took me over a year, but I will give that a try...

...and thank goodness I did! Fans will expect a reprise of Sola, but what we get to my ears is a great combination of early solo Neal (dainty melodies from Testimony and ...Nother Trip) and the more recent JC Exorcist (featuring choirs and roots/thumping tunes) that genuinely take me back in time. I'd also like to discuss Neal's voice. What used to be a softer register tone that could amp up for climactic moments has become the opposite: a very rough experience at low volumes that becomes an absolute assault rifle when cranked up. Being able to pierce through metal-based music isn't just something you can practice. You can't predict how your voice will age, but you can adjust based on the passage of time, and I think Neal has provided an exceptional example of how to do that effectively.

To me, what Neal has accomplished here is nothing short of astounding. It really hit me at my first Morsefest. He has had incredible ideas throughout his professional life, but the mechanics of bringing them to life have been difficult. Now he has a mini choir, and mini orchestra, ready to record, not only as session musicians, but as believers in the cause, and the result clearly comes through on the albums. No one is cashing a check...the passion is there, and believer or not, that makes a difference in the music, and amazingly that edge is still there in this album. I did not think Neal could deliver and album like this, in these circumstances, but he freaking did, and I will treasure it forever.

Review by Warthur
4 stars Whilst in his early solo career Neal Morse put out a fair few prog albums under his own name, for the last ten years or so he's actually been more sparing on that front. He's kept up the pace of his singer-songwriter releases and his "worship music" series of mainstream Christian faith music, but ever since his surprise return to Transatlantic for The Whirlwind it seems like he actively prefers to make prog in a band context - thus putting out less prog albums as "Neal Morse" and more as part of "The Neal Morse Band". (There was the Jesus Christ the Exorcist album, but that was a full cast prog-gospel rock opera, and so whilst it differed from the Neal Morse Band's approach, it also wasn't very much like Neal's earlier solo prog albums.)

And, in a way, Sola Gratia kind of is a Neal Morse Band album, because the gang is all here (or at least are present virtually - due to this being recorded in the early phases of the first COVID lockdown, all the participants recorded their parts separately and Neal assembled it all together).

At the same time, it's not presented as one, and for good reason. All the Neal Morse Band releases include extensive sharing of the songwriting duties. Sometimes the extent to which is the case has varied - their first album was very much a collaborative effort, since they deliberately went in the studio with nothing prepared, whereas on The Great Adventure, Neal already had demos of the entire thing worked out and the band's contribution largely came down to putting flesh on those bones.

For Sola Gratia, however, Neal composed everything and the band are really here simply to put his vision into effect - so it's credited to him, not the group as a whole. (They would go right back to a very band-oriented, collective approach on Innocence and Danger, which they'd release under the band name.)

It's a sort of thematic sequel to his earlier solo album, Sola Scriptura - in that both albums are based on major theological concepts in Protestant Christianity, and both of them are concept albums based around the stories of major figures in Christian history, Martin Luther in the case of Sola Scriptura and Saint Paul on this album.

What you get here, then, might not be all that surprising; designating this a "Neal Morse" album was apt. If you've taken in his solo prog work from Testimony to Momentum, you'll recognise a lot of the schticks and techniques he works in here - but he's also picked up a few new tricks up his sleeve. This might be the benefit of working more in a band context - not only does this help Neal pick up new ideas better than him doing all the songwriting work himself, but it also means that when it comes time to put together a solo album the "old way" he could come back to it with fresh eyes, making this one of the stronger releases in his discography under his own name.

Latest members reviews

4 stars This isolation of the pandemic offered an opportunity for Neal to focus on his progressive rock solo concept work. Long time musical partners Mike Portnoy and Randy George bring their talents, as well as some guitar and keyboard work from Eric Gillette and Bill Hubauer. This album was also entir ... (read more)

Report this review (#2454886) | Posted by thesimilitudeofprog | Thursday, October 8, 2020 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Neal Morse has done it again. Another concept album. This time produced under trying circumstances. Unable to get together with his musical associates to write and record, he wrote the whole thing himself and sent the files to Mike Portnoy and Randy George to add drums and bass. Neal Morse Band ... (read more)

Report this review (#2447592) | Posted by AlanB | Sunday, September 13, 2020 | Review Permanlink

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