Morse, Neal - Testimony

Year of Release: 2003
Label: Inside Out
Catalog Number: IOMCD139
Format: CD
Total Time: 132:34:00

As Neal Morse was the special guest for 2004's CalProg Festival, I though it best I brush up on his solo material, guessing that it would form the core of his set. And since Testimony was his latest, I guessed the bulk would be material from that album. As it turned out, it wasn't, as I detected only two pieces from it, the rest being from his earlier solo albums or Spock's Beard material.

Listening to Testimony, you realize just how much of Spock's Beard's sound was his. Not that other members of the band didn't contribute, but Testimony sounds so very much like a Spock's album... and one that is more cohesive than Snow. I know, I know this is Morse's third solo CD; however, but for the players involved, it could very well be a SB album. Or at least, the next evolution of a SB with the brass elements - Jim Hoke on sax, Neil Rosengarden on trumpet - some classical elements - violins, viola, flute (Eric Brenton, Chris Charmichael), and cello (David Henry). Though those instrumental aren't the exclusive provenance of classical. Into the prog rock mix Morse adds jazz (including some slinky, New Orleans style sax on "The Storm Before The Calm," courtesy Mark Leniger), bluegrass, and classical elements all to tell his story. His story is of journeying from a depressed and struggling musician in L.A. to, eventually, a happy (or happier, at least), successful musician in Nashville and finding God on that journey, which brings about the happier outcome.

Unlike the other overtly religious albums that I have heard, Morse's is not particularly preachy. Partly because it is about his journey rather than his trying to convert the listener to his point of view (at least not entirely, towards the end of disc two he does get close to doing so with "Rejoice"). But also unlike those I have heard, Morse doesn't present the material in a saccharine manner, no too-sweet, chirpy vocals. It's like a Spock's Beard album with a more overt religious context. So while I don't share Morse's religious views, from all other perspectives I quite enjoy this album.

The album is the answer to question that was being asked after Morse's seemingly abrupt departure from Spock's Beard, and why. As I'm sure many thought he'd gone off his rocker and become a religious nut? Especially when it appeared - wrongly - that Morse was going to abandon music entirely. Not only was not the case, but he didn't abandon the particularly American brand of prog rock that folks had come to know him for. There are keys all over this release, mostly Morse, whether parpy synth tones or rumbling piano. Kansas' Kerry Livgren guests on "Long Story" by playing a guitar solo that is?

Testimony is a two disk set, so once gets a lot of music, all pretty much flowing together from one song to the next. You might think that that might be too much music - especially if you're not into the "god thing" - but it's not. Morse makes the experience of listening so pleasurable, containing all the right Morse-isms, that you can understand his journey and his depth of feeling throughout. All albums should be this rich and diverse. There are reasons why this CD gets high marks, it's very, very good.

Testimony is a mix of vocal and instrumental tracks, a mix of mellow rock and hard rock with a ton of beautiful and interesting textures. I think this as "Break Of Day" concludes and "Power In The Air" begins, a bridge that shows us these contrasts, as the former is light, lyrical and jazzy in spots, the latter a driving rocker, including electric piano (Eric Brenton). Joining Morse are a gaggle of musicians including his Transatlantic cohort Mike Portnoy on drums.

The darkest musical moment is the grinding, classical-cum-jazz sounding instrumental "Transformation" that opens disc two. In fact, like the title suggests, it is a transition from something very dark to something that gradually gets lighter. In Morse's tale, it marks his move from L.A., where he had grown quite depressed over (in part) a musical career that was not going where he wanted -- or not going at all -- to Nashville. A region evoked in the twang, the gospel feel, and the bluegrass instrumental bridge of "Sing It High" (a revivalist feel, actually, echoed later in "The Storm?").

And even if the sentiments Morse expresses isn't one you share, there is something quite beautiful about "I Am Willing" in the arrangement, including Morse's soaring, heartfelt vocals. In a secular context, one might emote this way about romantic love; in this context though, Morse's religious love (agape) is clear and no less emotive.

Though the album seems to come to a natural and satisfactory conclusion at the end of "God's Theme, " as here we find the first real break between tracks (aside from going from disc one to two), the album goes on for another ten minutes. It is in this ten minutes where Morse does get a little preachy, in, as I mentioned, "Rejoice." Sure, it's still great prog, but maybe just a little too much music. Though, on the other hand it's like getting "bonus tracks." They are strong enough not be merely filler, however.

If you like Spock's Beard, set aside any preconceived ideas that this is album is full of tracks trying to tell you how "great god is." Yes, there is a bit of that at the end, but it still ends up being personal rather than preachy. Listen to the music, the rhythms, the emotion and feeling and I think you'll come away thinking quite highly of this album.

Disc One: Part One: The Land Of Beginning Again / Overture No 1 / California Nights / Colder In The Sun / Sleeping Jesus / Interlude / The Prince Of The Power Of The Air / The Promise / Wasted Life / Part Two: Overture No 2 / Break Of Day / Power In The Air / Somber Days / Long Story / It's All I Can Do

Disc Two: Part Three: Transformation / Ready To Try / Sing It High / Part Four: Moving In My Heart / I Am Willing / In The Middle / The Storm Before The Calm / Oh To Feel Him / God's Theme / Part Five: Overture No 3 / Rejoice / Oh Lord My God / God's Theme 2 / The Land Of Beginning Again

Eric Brenton - violin, viola, electric violin solo at the end of (11)
Chris Carmichael - violin, viola, cello, string arrangements
David Henry - cello
Mike Portnoy - drums, vocals
Pamela Ward and Erin - all female background vocals and soulful wailing
Rick Altizer - vocals on high parts in the choruses
Terry White and Gene Miller - vocals
Jim Hoke - sax
Neil Rosengarden - trumpet
Katie Hagen - French Horn
Mark Leniger - sax solo
Byron House - string bass
Glenn Caruba - percussion
Johnny Cox - pedal steel guitar
Jerry Guidroz - handclaps, sampling
Kerry Livgren - guitar solo (15)
Neal Morse - everything else

Spock's Beard - The Light (1991)
Spock's Beard - Beware of Darkness (1995)
Spock's Beard - The Beard Is Out There Live (1995) (cd/vid)
Spock's Beard - Official Live Bootleg (1996)
Spock's Beard - The Kindness of Strangers (1997)
Spock's Beard - From The Vault - 1995-1998 (1998)
Spock's Beard - Day For Night (1999)
Spock's Beard - Live At The Whiskey and NEARfest (1999)
Neal Morse (1999)
Spock's Beard - Don't Try This At Home (2000)
Merry Christmas From The Morse Family (2000)
Neal Morse and Nick D'Virgilio - Two Separate Gorillas - Live In Europe (2000)
Spock's Beard - V (2000)
Transatlantic - SMPTe (2000)
It's Not Too Late (2001)
Transatlantic - Live In America (2001)
Transatlantic - Bridge Across Forever (2001)
Transatlantic - Bridge Across Forever - Special Edition (2001)
Spock's Beard - Snow (2002)
Testimony (2003)
One (2004)
Lead Me Lord (Worship Sessions Volume One) (2005)
? (2005)
Morse Portnoy George - Cover To Cover (2006)
Sola Scriptura (2007)
?: Live (2007)
Lifeline (2008)
Testimony Two (2011)
Testimony 2: Live In Los Angeles (CD/DVD) (2011)
Cover 2 Cover (2012)
Momentum (2012)
Neal Morse Band - The Grand Experiment (2015)
Neal Morse Band - Alive Again Tour 2015 (2016)
Neal Morse Band - The Similitude Of A Dream (2016)
Neal Morse Band - Morsefest 2015 (CD/DVD) (2017)
Life & Times (2018)

Transatlantic - Live In America (VID) (2001)
Testimony Live (DVD) (2004)
Sola Scriptura And Beyond (DVD) (2008)
Neal Morse Band - Morsefest 2015 (BR) (2017)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: July 25th 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 879
Language: english


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