Progressive rock and Christianity have always been uncomfortable bedfellows. Despite embracing religious symbolism, spiritual lyrics and generally positive vibes, such bands as Yes, Kansas and King's X have refused to accept the "Christian-rock" tag. The apparent dichotomy between the genres even drove Neal Morse, a modern-day prog-rock Renaissance man, from Spock's Beard in 2002. Fortunately, Morse hasn't abandoned his prog roots, as he and many of his musical contemporaries are showcased on this double-disc collection of progressive-rock songs celebrating their Christian connection.
An acronym for Christian Progressive Rock, the CPR project features 18 artists – all professed Christians – including such established acts as Glass Hammer, Proto-Kaw, Salem Hill and, of course, Morse, as well as many newcomers. The musical chalice overflows with both previously released material and songs debuting here for the first time. This is the first volume in an anticipated series of compilations intended to promote prog rock to a Christian audience and to convey Christian concepts to the prog community.
Even though gutiarist Mike Tenenbaum, whose band Akacia presents the epic rocker "Postmodernity" here, is the brainchild of CPR and gets (and deserves) the credit for making this project a reality, it is Morse who personifies the Christian progressive-rock artist. On "I Am Willing," from his post-Spock's double CD Testimony, he conveys the right degrees of both determination and vulnerability in his voice – both vocal traits necessary to convince listeners when he sings, "I don't know why you'd die/Just to save me/Oh Father/Come and take me now."
But Morse is far from the only highlight. In fact, most of the second disc, which exceeds the first disc in terms of memorable tracks kicks holy butt, save, unfortunately, the experimental ramblings of Salem Hill's "The Judgment." Disc Two opens with the feel-good neo-prog of Revelation Project's "Glory" – can somebody please tell me how an instrumental can be considered a "Christian" song? – and later on features Ten Point Ten's Morse-influenced "The River;" an amazingly crystalline vocal performance from Eric Parker on "Hold Me Again;" female-fronted Theophonic Cloud's "Dry Bones," punctuated by a smoldering yet downright eerie guitar synth solo; and Shadowstar's "Documents," which is reflective of classic Alan Parsons Project.
That's not to say Disc One lacks divine inspiration. Highlights there include the keyboard-rich "Farewell to Shadowlands" from Glass Hammer; Vertical Alignment's melodic power-chord crunch on "Once In A Dream;" "Kara Kum," the complex instrumental from Dave Beegle; and Everlasting Arms' "Rapture," a 10-part story poem that builds to a crescendo with a majestic synth solo. Compilation producers Randy George and Gene Crout also contribute tracks. George's band Ajalon kicks off Disc One with the lightweight yet catchy "What Kind of Love," and Crout's band America Gomorrah turns in one of the album's strongest songs with "Two Sisters."
A handful of songs here espouse religious beliefs with few inhibitions, but most lyrical sentiments are at least thinly veiled. The music, for a compilation CD of this magnitude, is exceptional for fans of progressive rock who aren't afraid to embrace either their own beliefs or those of talented prog players, as well as for Christians who can see and hear beyond the boundaries of so-called "religious music." I guarantee you there will be at least one artist (and probably many more than one) on CPR Volume One that you'll want to pursue further. Thank God for such a rewarding CD as this one.
1) Ajalon: What Kind of Love (6:52)
2) Glass Hammer: Farewell to Shadowlands (7:30)
3) American Gomorrah: Two Sisters (7:14)
4) Proto-Kaw: Leaven (8:28)
5) Dave Beegle: Kara Kum (9:09)
6) Dwight Mitchell: The Race (4:09)
7) Navigator: Traveling Through the Earth (7:55)
8) Vertical Alignment: Once In A Dream (7:29)
9) Everlasting Arms: Rapture (7:34)
Total Time: 66:23
1) Revelation Project: Glory (5:48)
2) Salem Hill: The Judgement (11:11)
3) Akacia: Postmodernity (8:44)
4) Neal Morse: I Am Willing (6:36)
5) Ten Point Ten: The River (5:49)
6) Eric Parker: Hold Me Again (5:27)
7) Theophonic Cloud: Dry Bones (8:08)
8) Divine In Sight: Viper's Brood (6:31)
9) Shadowstar: Documents (6:33)
Total Time: 64:54
Total Combined Running Time: 131:17