Morse, Neal: Testimony 2
The last Neal Morse albums I truly enjoyed from start to finish were ? (Question) and Sola Scriptura. Everything after that, while featuring flashes of brilliance, has been hit and miss for me. Neal Morse is an excellent writer, but it was obvious he was running out of steam.
Though not quite on that level, Testimony 2 is a huge improvement over Morse's past couple of releases, including Songs from the Highway, the covers album, and the disappointing Lifeline. It picks up where the first album left off and continues to chronicle Neal Morse's spiritual journey. Supported by long-time friends, Mike Portnoy on drums and Randy George on bass, Neal Morse has also enlisted a plethora of other guest musicians to enrich his music. There is plenty of violin, cello, viola, and saxophone in the mix, as the album develops themes from the first Testimony disc and subtly glues them together. The music is varied as expected: there is the classically arranged "Mercy Street" that stands out for its use of strings and acoustic guitars; the whacky instrumental "Overture No. 4" with a strong rhythm presence; or the very personal "Jayda," a song about Morse's daughter who was born with a critical heart condition. Also in the mix are a wide range of elements ranging from comtemporary pop to gospel to soulful background vocals (both male and female).
That said, the album's highlights are the more progressive numbers. "Time Changer" sees Morse reuniting with his former bandmates from Spock's Beard. The complex vocal harmonies a la Gente Giant are in one word sublime. "Nighttime Collectors" captures the live feel of the band while maintaining a hard-rocking drive -- the instrumentation is so organic that you will never know when and how the beautiful electric guitar bleeds into the following track, "Time Has Come Today." The album's most emotive moment is "Jesus' Blood" -- Morse's singing is unmatched and drips with sheer emotion. He is the only singer in the world that can sing like Mike Tramp, a personal favourite of mine. The guitar solo here sends shivers down the spine, and it's perhaps the most beautiful solo of the year.
The second disc consists of three tracks independent of the concept of the album. "Absolute Beginner" is Neal Morse-style pop at its best with a catchy chorus you can sing along to right on first listen. "Supernatural" brings forth brilliant synth playing in its intro and a capella style vocals sung over distant acoustic guitars before a full-on melody is built on top of it. "Seeds of Gold" is something for his fans from Spock's Beard and Translatlantic. At over 25 minutes, it marries complex bass lines with tasteful drum beats as well as melodic guitar phrases slicing through mammoth soundscapes. Guesting with a solo is Steve Morse -- his playing is absolutely fantastic. Vintage keyboards dominate the mix while harmonized vocals are spread across the whole track with cascading melodies and nuanced rhythmic flow.
Testimony 2 proves that Neal Morse still has a lot to offer when he takes the time to develop his ideas and do what he does best: write strong, unforgettable melodies backed by top-notch instrumental performances.
Part Six: (22:50)
1. Mercy Street
2. Overture No. 4
3. Time Changer
Part Seven: (22:54)
5. Nighttime Collectors
6. Time has come Today
7. Jesus' Blood
8. The Truth Will Set You Free
Part Eight: (32:36)
9. Chance of a Lifetime
10. Jesus Bring Me Home
11. Road Dog Blues
12. It's For You
13. Crossing Over / Mercy Street Reprise
1. Absolute Beginner (4:39)
2. Supernatural (6:11)
3. Seeds of Gold (25:59)
Added: June 20th 2011
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Artist Website
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|Morse, Neal: Testimony 2
Posted by Jeff B, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-06-20 13:41:12
It's truly amazing how consistently Neal Morse delivers some of the best prog rock out there. Between his work with Spock's Beard, the supergroup Transatlantic, and his tremendous solo career, it's remarkable that he's still able to release such top-notch music. Testimony 2 is Neal's sixth prog rock solo effort, and (as implied by the title) is a continuation of 2003's Testimony. Testimony explored Neal Morse's spiritual journey into becoming a born-again Christian, and Testimony 2 is a lyrical continuation of that journey. Whether or not you're a believer, this is beautiful music that Morse clearly put his heart and soul into. The first Testimony album is one of my all-time favorites, and Testimony 2 is a more-than-worthy successor. In almost every way possible, this album is another masterpiece from Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Randy George, and a host of other guests. I have no doubt that this will be viewed as one of the best prog rock albums 2011 has to offer.
For anyone familiar with Neal Morse's music, his sound is instantly recognizable. Expect epic prog rock instrumental sections in the vein of Yes, vocal sections inspired by Gentle Giant, and four-man Genesis-sounding pop/rock sections. The Beatles are also a huge influence for Morse, which is clearly audible in tracks like "Chance of a Lifetime" or "Road Dog Blues". Testimony 2 is not as eclectic as Testimony nor as heavy as Sola Scriptura, but instead rests somewhere in-between. Conceptually, this may be his best album yet, with songs like "Jayda" and "Time Changer" featuring some of his best lyrical work to date. The former song (written about his daughter who was born with a hole in her heart) especially is evidence that Morse really put his sweat, blood, and tears into making this an incredibly emotional album. Testimony 2 isn't all about "spiritual" lyrics and softer songs, though. Expect plenty of instrumental prowess from Morse, George, and Portnoy on tracks like "Overture No. 4" and "Time Changer". "Time Changer" is a really unique track, seeing that it features a vocal section with Spock's Beard members and even features a borrowed organ riff from "The Water" (off of Spock's Beard's The Light). Between those accolades and the terrific bass playing from Randy George, it may be safe to consider this the best song on the album. Testimony 2 closes off in the epic sense that Neal Morse is known for. "Crossing Over / Mercy Street Reprise" features many of the themes from the album (as well as the first Testimony), making for a fantastic closing piece.
If you're going to get this album, it's worth mentioning that the double-disc version with three bonus tracks is absolutely essential. The bonus disc contains two pop-oriented songs, and one 26 minute prog epic that's among Morse's finest ever. "Absolute Beginner" is a decent pop/rock song, "Supernatural" is absolutely beautiful (I really love that one), and "Seeds of Gold" is possibly better than anything on disc one of the album. And after reading my endless praise for disc one, it's clear how much that means. "Seeds of Gold" contains extremely memorable themes, odd time signatures galore, and terrific vocals from Neal Morse. Did someone say "masterpiece"?
Testimony 2 is yet another fantastic effort from the master of modern prog, Neal Morse. This shows him at his most lyrically intense, musically demanding, and compositionally impressive. I wouldn't quite put this as his best effort ever (Snow will most likely always hold that position for me), but it's an essential purchase and one of the best this year by a long shot. 5 stars are well-deserved for this stellar album. I honestly can't think of many albums I would give the masterpiece stamp before this one. Whether you like him or not, Neal Morse can't be ignored and Testimony 2 is a serious contender for my top five list once the end of the year rolls around. Chalk up another essential modern prog masterpiece for Neal Morse.
|Morse, Neal: Testimony 2
Posted by Keith Hannaleck, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-06-19 09:47:51
Neal Morse continues on his spiritual journey and shares it with us again on a second installment of his recordings titled Testimony Two, a two disc set. He is joined by his usual stellar performers Mike Portnoy (drums) and Randy George (bass) amongst several other guests including his former band Spock's Beard on the powerful track "Time Changer".
I have always appreciated Neal's music and the tremendous insight into the human spirit based on a solid foundation of faith that he conveys. As most folks know that are familiar with Neal, he is a born again Christian. This event sparked his exit from Spock's Beard and consequently launched a very successful solo career and several recordings with prog rock super group Transatlantic.
Testimony Two is without a doubt the strongest effort to date from Morse. I have covered his solo career very closely and had the opportunity to share my opinion on most of his work to date. I noticed right from the start that the energy level and music is very powerful. This is a very good thing because Neal has a story to tell and a very important message to relay to listeners. This is his story and it is indeed a compelling one. The turning point in Neal's life was when his daughter Jayda was born with a hole in her heart and then was healed by a miracle of faith. I think most people would be shaken by such an event and given a new outlook on life, and then renewed spiritually with all the possibilities presented during such an awakening. It was a huge wake up call for Neal and his family and the reason you are reading this review is because of that little girl and how she was healed.
It really is an amazing story and the music that is found on this recording is equal to the task of telling the tale in the most prolific way. The disc opens with "Part Six" which may seem odd at first however if you have Testimony, the first installment, it will make sense. The story continues and unravels in 17 amazing tracks on disc one. As "Overture No. 4" leads into "Time Changer" you know that this album is not going to let up and you are in for a truly great progressive rock experience. One of the more entertaining tracks is "Road Dog Blues", which is self-explanatory. Not only does Neal find freedom in his new found faith, he can share it with his family because he is not on the tour grind any longer with Spock's Beard. I can see Portnoy having the time of his life behind the drum kit on that track.
CD 2 holds three tracks and it's the highlight of the set, all three emotionally power packed tracks. This is Morse and his band at their very best pumping out prog rock classics "Absolute Beginner", "Supernatural" and the nearly 25 minute tour de force "Seeds of Gold" to wrap up the session. This set is fantastic and similar to the kind of music and presentation that Neal is accustomed to in recording with Transatlantic.
Neal Morse has made the musical and spiritual statement of his life and career with Testimony Two.
|Morse, Neal: Testimony 2
Posted by Mark Johnson, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-05-31 18:24:16
Neal Morse is one of the biggest names in modern prog rock. As the lead singer of Spock's Beard for over 10 years, he was very successful delivering some of the band's best and most memorable songs and vocals. The 10 critically acclaimed CDs and 2 DVDs they released are some of the hallmark albums of the resurgence of the prog genre during the 80s and 90s.
However, despite success, not all was well with Neal spiritually. When he nearly lost his daughter, it was a turning point. This album picks up where the first album left off by explaining the details of how Neal's life has changed for the better. This album is a great continuation and better development of the story delivered with the help of some famous guest artists including many of his band mates from Spock's Beard. Neal Morse is the producer, composer, plays guitars, synth, piano, organ, and handles the lead vocals. Mike Portnoy plays drums, and Randy George plays bass.
Morse came to realize that for him, embracing the Christian faith was the fulfillment of his spiritual quest. This album takes us through his transformation filled with emotional and inspiring lyrics, fantastic musicianship and a strong guest list of supporting artists.
The real power in the overall recording is the fact that it is very well produced and captures an almost live sound that Neal was able to create with this 2 CD set. The power and energy never leave throughout both sets and you can definitely foresee how this will play well live on tour.
From my perspective, Neal is a new sound if you were born in the 80s or beyond. That demographic may actually assume all of these themes are brand new if they are hearing them for the first time. For those of us born before the 80s, we can pick out all of the old themes. There is nothing wrong with bringing back memories of the glory of the past, but since this was such a personal story, I was hoping Neal would add to the prog gallery of classics with some new themes and spectacular original melodies with memorable moments. It is still wonderful music set to a great story about redemption which everyone hopefully will find in time. There is one line that captured the overall feeling I had listening to both CDs. "Like everything's been done before". It just jumped out and summed up my feeling for the set. There are some highlights like the 'homecoming' section of 'Seeds of Gold. If you like Neal's music, you will like this. If you liked Testimony One, here's more of the story.
'Mercy Street' opens with quiet soft piano before the sax, guitars, bass, and drums join in. A nice opening serving as the bridge between Testimony One and this album, while at the same time getting this new chapter under way. After the introductory instrumentation we are treated to a Styx, 'Grand Illusion' – like keyboard melody mixed with some Yes keyboard sounds, before Neal opens up with vocals and the continuation of the story from Testimony One. Great drums, keys and guitars to kick off this two CD special presentation of how Neal changed both personally and musically.
The keyboards from 'Mercy Street' flow perfectly into 'Overture No. 4', along with some cool launching guitar riffs. The keyboards will bring back memories from many of those 70s era masters of the keyboards. Paul Bielatowicz's guitar solo is definitely one of the biggest highlights though. Randy George's bass gives great additional depth to the sound. The organ, keys, and synths from Neal are fantastic and blend perfectly with Bielatowicz's guitar. If the first song didn't capture your attention this one surely will. Portnoy's drums are as usual brilliant.
The music doesn't stop as it melds right into 'Time Changer'. The feeling is more like a suite of songs to open this first disc. This will sound fantastic live as the band plans to play the entire 2 disc set live. Eric Brenton's electric violin is a welcomed addition and highlight to this track as it slices through the keys, soaring guitars and Portnoy's drum blasts. George's bass is also all over this track providing that cool mellow lows necessary to offset Neal's higher pitched vocals and all the amazing guitar work. This is a story of Neal's success with Spock's Beard and it is full of power and magic. In fact, Spock's Beard members join in to perform the multi-vocal parts that made them famous.
'Jayda' slows things down as the story begins to change from a frantic paced rock life to one of facing some very difficult moments with the illness of Neal's child Jayda. It would be a turning point for Neal and the beginning of the basis of the Testimony stories. Neal warmly and emotionally delivers the story with the accompaniment of keys, guitars, Chris Carmichael's violin, viola and cello string section, and George's warm bass notes. Portnoy's slow patted drums help mark out the time well.
'Nighttime Collectors' opens with the cheers of the crowd, Portnoy's drums, bass, keys and some rocketing guitar riffs. "We were rocking!" is belted out as guitars, drums and bass rock loudly. The organ sounds and guitar work are excellent. The synth/keyboard sounds brings back memories of Tony Banks.'Time has Come Today' opens right off the last song with more good organ, bass, and guitars. Portnoy and Morse have an interesting drum and guitar section which is brilliant, right before some very cool ELO – like keys. This is a mostly instrumental song, until Neal brings back vocals half way through with some 'hey,hey,heys and ho,ho,hos", reminiscent of Phil Collins on 'Dance on a Volcano'.
'Jesus' Blood' is the highlight of this first CD for me. The story and the way Neal unfolds it emotionally with keys, drums, bass, and slow guitars really delivers the power of the message. The guitar soling mixes well with Portnoy's slow drums and George's bass work. The choir – like vocal sounds supporting Neal's vocals help build volume to take advantage of the emotion of the moment. The female vocal support is also warm and caring in its surrounding effect.
'The Truth Will Set You Free' is the first of three, over 7 minute epics, on this first CD. The sound just picks up off the end of the last song with a cool guitar riff followed by power guitar, drums, and Kashmir – like walls of sound taking the whole soundscape even higher. "Come on son you've been on the run but the shore awaits you now". Very uplifting messages set to powerful and emotional music. The instrumental soloing even includes some organ and keyboard work reminiscent of Genesis' 'Supper's Ready' at times.
'Chance of a Lifetime' continues the unending blitz of keys, guitar, drums and bass instrumentation as the suite continues to unfold, in this second of three major epics on CD 1. This song opens with many reminders of the keyboard work of the 70s, before Neal continues the story and the change he went through spiritually. The saxphone provides welcomed variety to the mix before Neal adds some Supertramp – like keys to bring back more memories of the 70s. The guitar soloing is very good along with the bass and drum work.
'Jesus Bring Me Home' opens without break, full of acoustic guitar and soft keys in the background. Neal delivers more emotional lyrics and melodies as he unveils more of the spiritual transition set to some cool keys. This is my second favorite track on the CD. The power of the lyrics and emotions make it one of his best songs. The flute and sitar help to add variety and propel this one even higher. The synths, keys, and guitars support the dramatic transformation well.
'Road Dog Blues' is a goodbye to the road and its difficult trials and tribulations. The sax work really helps pitch the celebration even higher. Then, Neal brings back memories of classic Genesis and classical music with a wonderful piano instrumental which drifts into a solo masterpiece.
'It's for You' opens with that same piano from the last song, but the pace picks up as Neal's spiritual transformation really is confirmed. The drums, bass, and orchestration really pick up and deliver the full emotional satisfaction you can tell Neal felt with this transformation. The track is full of more great guitar soloing, keyboards and Portnoy's drums. Then Neal cools things down with a wonderful vocal delivery matched with quiet piano.
'Crossing Over/Mercy Street Reprise' is the grand closing epic at 11:46. It opens with the now familiar melody that has been with us throughout, delivered through keys, guitar soling and bass with soft drums. Neal recounts the feelings and overwhelming changes that he went through of leaving behind his old life and starting anew, matched with some themes that sound familiar from the past.
CD 2 kicks off with a celebration of Neal's life after all of the spiritual changes, starting with 'Absolute Beginner'. Neal sings, "Today I feel better. Like this is the first day of a whole new life. Like an absolute beginner and everything is new". This is more of a rocker, with smooth and heavy at times, Journey – like guitar, bass and heavy drums.
'Supernatural' opens with cool keys and slow guitar as Neal begins to sing, "It's supernatural". Very inspirational lyrics filled with themes from any number of prog giants from the past. Portney's drums and George's bass do a great job offsetting Neal's higher notes with deep bass sounds. The Styx – like synths and organ like keys continue to dominate combined later with Jon Anderson – like/Yes "Do,do,dos".
Steve Morse has a huge guitar solo on the epic 29:59 minute 'Seeds of Gold'. Neal opens the song with an original and classical sounding piano interlude which for me was the highlight of this epic, and possibly the entire CD set. Neal closes the album with a massive prog epic which borrows on themes from any number of prog giants while keeping an original melody. The keys, drums, bass, and guitar sounds are similar to many of Neal's solo records and other bands of his peer group. The acoustic guitar moments are some of the best on this song. The 'homecoming' section of the song is original sounding and the best part of the CD set. Not much new, but everything is delivered slick and full of power, energy and emotion.
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