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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.


Tracklisting
Disc 1
Part Six: (22:50)
1. Mercy Street
2. Overture No. 4
3. Time Changer
4. Jayda
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


Disc 2
1. Absolute Beginner (4:39)
2. Supernatural (6:11)
3. Seeds of Gold (25:59)

Added: June 20th 2011
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Score:
Related Link: Artist Website
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Language: english

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Morse, Neal: Testimony 2
Posted by Jeff B, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-06-20 13:41:12
My Score:

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.



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