Neal Morse – Sola Gratia: Album Review

Prog’s most prolific musician, Neal Morse, carves out an album that owes a debt to a misunderstanding with his wife and links to his Sola Scriptura record from 2007.

Release Date: 11th September 2020

Label: InsideOut Music

Format: DL / 2LP / CD / CD/DVD digipak

For many many years, Morse could do no wrong, IMHO as they say. Even leaving Spock’s Beard to set off on his spiritual path with his Testimony album and the Question Mark and One records. His flame burned brighter than ever.

To be honest, and I’m sure Neal would have it no other way, some fans myself included, have had struggles with the sheer weight of the recent double sets The Similitude Of A Dream and The Great Adventure. Yeah, it was great seeing him play the whole of the former at Manchester Ritz, but for the latter, it was more a case of too much of a good thing leaving one wanting less. The expression, never mind the quality, feel the width, could have been bandied about on reading of how the push was on to extend his writing into double albums.

As for the latter album, I may have played it once or twice, listened again to a few bits I liked but then, with a reluctant sigh, resigned it to the shelf. So when Neal says “I think Sola Gratia is as good as anything I’ve ever done” and “If you like any of those albums (the early solo ones) then you are really going to love this.”Let’s hope he’s not jinxed it.

For a start, he’s gone back to basics, or at least as basic as you’d expect from Neal Morse. It’s not just him with an acoustic guitar and a few keyboard effects (nice diversions though they are when he moves in that direction), but he’s working under his own name again, taking on all the writing and singing duties although Mike Portnoy, Randy George are inevitably involved.

For once, the trio is working remotely – not an issue I guess as they did Cov3r To Cov3r that way too. The cover and links with Sola Scriptura will be obvious to Morse disciples in some of the musical themes and the “this is all I asked for” lines as he builds with new ideas involving Paul’s aggressive pursuit of the early Christians. “I could see a link to some of the themes of persecution in Sola Scriptura,” he explains for those of us who didn’t pay attention in Divinity classes at school or are less taken with the spiritual content that’s at the core of Morse’s work.

Naturally, and this is why we love Neal, it’s delivered with a passion and a hellfire zeal that looms large even from the song titles that reference the Name Of/Glory Of The Lord, Pharisees and Damascus. Nothing is brushed under the carpet, the heart is worn proudly on the sleeve

If you know Neal Morse, there are no real surprises. Variety comes in the bubbling electro-ness of Seemingly Sincere that pushes the instrumental prog prowess and the choir that’s a bit close to saccharine in the Adoni section of The Glory Of The Lord. Randy George takes a lead bass part in the plodding March Of The Pharisees and Morse rocks as hard as he ever has in The Name Of The Lord where the “you’d better tow the line” threat comes served with some soulful Acid Queen backing vox.

The final quarter-hour of the album is pure uplifting Morse that whatever the content, hits the sort of emotional peaks that are his trademark. Think back to I Am Willing, Crossing Over and you’re into the inspirational territory that could convince you to see the light and the presence of some higher power.

Inevitably, there may be more. The story in Sola Gratia ends only at Paul’s conversion, so Morse promises that this may only be part 1…

Morsefest 2020 will feature a live outing for the new album, details here

Listen to Seemingly Sincere here:

Neal Morse online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Youtube

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