Neal Morse – The Dreamer, Joseph Part One: Album Review

Never one to be constricted by any kind of boundary, Neal Morse sets off on another huge Prog/spiritual undertaking.

Release Date: 11th August 2023

Label: Frontiers Music s.r.l

Format: digital / CD / LP

One often wonders what goes on in the musical brain of Neal Morse. The man is relentless. Prolific to the extreme. Solo work, Transatlantic, singer songwriter episodes, managing his Inner Circle and MorseFests and his own spiritual leanings. No wonder I’m sat here trying to put some sort of timeline together to get a handle on his output.

Having generally veered towards his Prog Rock work in the past, the huge Similitude Of A Dream and The Great Adventure, where his Prog side merged more with his religious leanings, were a challenge. Yes, the Neal Morse Band countered with Innocence & Danger and Transatlantic’s Absolute Universe offered the filtering down vis Portnoy, Stolt and Trewavas, but we find him now in full (and suitably epic) Gospel-inspired musical storytelling.

Hot on the heels of his Jesus Christ the Exorcist Rock Opera, his latest Gospel/Prog epic, tells the classic story of Joseph (the one with the coat of many colors as portrayed by Jason Donovan, Donny Osmond and ‘h’ from Steps) using the medium of progressive rock as only he can.

The Dreamer is a full-blown spectacular, casting not only characters to relate the narrative, but also rifling through his address book in search of the finest musicians for the musical roles. Expect to hear the heaps of soaring guitar playing from Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs) and Eric Gillette (NMB) among others, as this familiar story comes takes a Prog Rock shape.

The narrative unfolds with Morse employing range of vocalists – Ted Leonard (Spock’s Beard, Pattern Seeking Animals), Matt Smith (Theocracy) and Jake Livgren (Proto-kaw, Kansas) included – to sing the roles of Joseph’s brothers, as they grow dark with jealousy and throw him in the pit. Morse naturally is Joseph, dipping in and out of the piece with his observations and responses.

And it’s all kicked off with a full-on and hugely intense Prog overture that crosses Close To The Edge with Tarkus. Lots of furious Hammond that duels with some orchestral intervals. Heavy on the drama before a prologue that eases a way in with Morse already sending shivers with his passion and commitment and suitably climactic choral work (and most likely one hand in the air). Lovely stuff and despite being early doors, possibly the, return to moment, peak of the set.

Progressing through a number of shorter pieces that pick on particular episodes of the story, the Morse propensity for extended storytelling and merging musical ideas into one another, comes into its own. Jealousy burns like a wheel and the anger of Liar Liar is accompanied by a frenzied musical accompaniment. The arrangements, with multiple voices and spoken word narrative in Gold Dust City, Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind and The Pit shift into musical theater territory as the brothers consider their options and Morse/Joseph responds with an excitable riffing and rocking Like A Wall (that he cannot get over). Slave Boy (“you’re my baby, I’ve got the key...”) has us venturing into an all-out soul/Acid Queen episode.

Despite setting out with some reservations, the Morse seduction is completed through via some stirring musical ideas (you’d expect nothing less) and his own undeniably passionate delivery. Some of the musical parts reach the places that only Morse-penned Prog epics can touch – the finale of Wait On You with a suitably peachy solo and Ultraviolet Dreams (when the line between Morse and Joseph is blurred in the “I know the Lord’s with me in the heart of my need” line) are particularly goosebump-y.

And this is just Part 1, ending with Joseph in prison for a crime he didn’t commit – yes, it’s back to out of sight, out of mind. It’s the cliffhanger, although you may already know the ending, setting up Part 2 (which you obviously knew was coming) that’s set to follow in 2024! Grab your ice cream in the interval, mull over the story so far and get ready for the second half.

Here’s a taster:

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

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