Neal Morse has done it again. After being asked to do a performance in his home church by his pastor (an idea which Morse initially thought impossible due to logistics), the idea wouldn't go away, in fact it grew, and it all blossomed into Morsefest!
2014, a two DVD/four CD package that features over five hours of progressive rock brilliance by Morse, his stellar band, and a host of cameo appearances (most notably his brother and former Spock's Beard bandmate Alan Morse).
Not being one to do anything with less than a complete effort, Morse elected to perform his first two solo albums (Testimony from 2003, and One from 2004) on consecutive nights, and he even flew in Rich Mouser, who did the original mixes on both records, to do the front of house sound. Considering that the albums had never been played front to back by a live band, it is Herculean to consider the daunting task for everyone involved. Over five hours of performances rehearsed for two shows. The quality of these five hours is astonishing - Neal Morse has done it again.
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It's easy to imagine how Morse may have decided to go into the studio shortly after these recordings were made with he same basic band, and for the first time, and collaborate on the next album without a net. The result was 'The Grand Experiment', an album I called one of the best of 2015 within weeks of its release back in February. I can only imagine that after learning, rehearsing, and performing two very complex albums, that it must have been an amazing breath of fresh air to go into the studio and create a record out of the ethers.
Interestingly, the only musician besides Morse to have appeared on both the original albums featured here is the band's token pirate, super drummer Mike Portnoy. I jest about Portnoy being a pirate - he's just the only guy in the band with long hair, a blue beard, and a backwards ball cap, but musically he's a perfect fit, and he's more than versatile enough to cover the quite prog/folk moments as he is The Who influenced rave ups that crop up from time to time.
Morse's music covers a tremendous amount of territory, and his band straddles the road with one eye towards faithful reproduction, and the other to excitement and innovation. Completing the rhythm section is bassist Randy George who continually makes me smile with his fluid style, remarkable chops, and sublime tones. His sound is always right for the song, and I especially love it when he applies a little (or a lot) of grind to his tone that conjures up names like Squire and Entwistle.
The main band is rounded out by keyboardist Bill Hubauer, and guitarist Eric Gillette, and over the last few years they have grown into an exceptional aggregation. They are flawless in their execution of the material, but they also bring tremendous passion to the proceedings. Whether it's Morse's own measured wonder at exactly what it is he is creating, his animated rock antics when he picks up a guitar, or his always confident vocals, he leads by example and his crew is with his every step of the way.
The additional four piece horn section, six member female background vocal section, violin and cello, orchestral percussion with tympani and chimes, dancers, and special guests provide much in the way of accompaniment and splendor to the proceedings.
I'm going to forsake going through my usual litany of listing and discussing individual songs, because there's just too many highlights, and not enough time in my day. Suffice to say that I think this is another magnificent achievement for Neal Morse and his band of merry men. I can't imagine anyone being anything less than thrilled by this exemplary package. Morse is a guy who just does things right, has the talent and the will to make it work, and the faith that it takes to make miracles like this happen.
Now, the guy's put out two of the best records of 2015, plus he's got his side projects Flying Colors and Transatlantic still idling in the shadows. I don't know just how much music Neal Morse has in him, but he's done it again.
The whole affair proved so successful that we're inside of a month from Morsefest! 2015, which will be held in Cross Plains, Tennessee over the weekend of September 4-6 (tickets still available). This year the featured albums will be '?' (Question Mark), and 'Sola Scriptura'.