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Neal Morse - Solo Gratia

Neal Morse
Solo Gratia
by Emily Schneider at 07 October 2020, 6:33 PM

Progressive Rock is, by far, one of the most unpredictable genres. Once you think you've heard just about every subgenre, a band takes advantage of the word 'progressive' and surely enough, progresses it into something else. Prog Rock legend Neal Morse (ex-SPOCK'S BEARD, TRANSATLANTIC) definitely takes progressive to a different direction I had yet to hear before; a religious direction. His latest solo album “Sola Gratia” is based upon religious persecution and eludes to the Protestant work 'Sola Scriptura'. While I'm anything but religious, I'm a massive Prog fan and more than willing to give this a try. Read on for my observations.
 
“Overture” is the definition of Prog Rock. Cool synthy guitars, some organ, and plenty of key changes full of layers and flowing glorious melody. All instrumental too, which was super enjoyable. “In the Name of the Lord” is from a point of view of a pharisee, a person who uses his position in the church for evil instead of good. There's a sinister vibe throughout the song, from the lower pitched, slower melody and the villainous tone in the vocals. This song sets the scene for the antagonists in an almost musical theater sort of way. The very musical theateresque “Ballyhoo” flows into “March of the Pharisees”, the latter song is another cool instrumental track with some awesome 80s Prog style pipe organ paired with a divine guitar solo from Neal.
 
“Building a Wall” reminded me of PINK FLOYD (and not because the song eludes to a wall!) The group vocals paired with some shreddy guitar plus some cowbell gave this song about splitting from the Catholic Church plenty of attitude. “Sola Intermezzo” is another sublime instrumental portion. Getting to hear the layer cake of instrumentation from the wildly talented band is quite delicious… including some crazy work with synthesizers. “Warmer Than the Sunshine” has lots of focus on the keys through most of the track, which I quite enjoyed, although I really liked the groovy basslines and percussion in this one a lot too. “Never Change” slows it all down for an emotional 8 minute track. The solos in this one are pretty stellar; something about some emotion-fueled shred paired with just a splash of pace keeping drums kept me hanging onto every note of this song. The choirs at the end with the powerful chorus gave me goosebumps; this song is definitely a message Neal was wanting to send to everyone about his strong conviction and his devotion to his beliefs.
 
“Seemingly Sincere” is the epic length track on this album. This one is another dramatic number, with some intriguing layers of instrumentation. It's a fun listen because it seems each instrument has an element that catches your ear at different points throughout the song; the electronic whirling bass line really stands out during the verses, the keys and organ and some snare stand out more in the chorus. Then everyone gets a chance to shine in the second half of the track. The synths were of course my favorite part; they remind me of why I love Prog music so much! The final 3 tracks were basically devotional songs, very Gospel with some splashes of Prog folded in.
 
Overall, this is a unique Progressive Rock album… or perhaps we can add Rock Opera into the categorization. Some of the songs certainly fit that description, with the Musical Theater vibes. The instrumentation is rich and full in nearly every song; there are so many layers to indulge on and every element is placed so intricately. I loved the synths and guitar work a lot too; Neal really does have a gift of playing the pure Prog style with grace. One thing that I wasn't as into though was the religious devotional tracks. It's not that they weren't well done, you can certainly feel the conviction and joy Christianity brings to Neal's life… I just can't relate to it, as an Agnostic/borderline Pagan. I can still admire his openness in his spirituality and relationship with Jesus Christ, especially being in the music industry that isn't always kind to openly religious people. The music that accompanied the songs was quite lovely, albeit a bit corny at times. All together though, “Sola Gratia” is a really good Progressive Rock Opera with some cool intricacies and a concept you might need knowledge of 'Sola Scriptura' to truly understand.
  
Songwriting: 7
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 8
Production: 8
  

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Preface (01:28)
2. Overture (05:59)
3. In The Name Of The Lord (04:27)
4. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones) (02:43)
5. March Of The Pharisees (01:40)
6. Building A Wall (05:01)
7. Sola Intermezzo (02:10)
8. Overflow (06:27)
9. Warmer Than The Sunshine (03:22)
10. Never Change (07:52)
11. Seemingly Sincere (09:34)
12. The Light On The Road To Damascus (03:26)
13. The Glory Of The Lord (06:17)
14. Now I Can See/The Great Commission (05:17)
Lineup:
Neal Morse – vocals, guitar and & keyboards
Mike Portnoy – drums
Randy George – bass
Gideon Klein – strings
Record Label: Insideout Music
     


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