CD Reviews

Neal Morse - 'Testimony 2' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     June 28, 2011    
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Another addition to what's becoming quite a phenomenal catalogue.

Despite the undoubted talent of Neal Morse and the distinctive and emotional nature of his music, I'm afraid I have a love/hate relationship with his sprawling 2003 double CD 'Testimony'. Musically it's excellent, and the shows in support of it were jaw-droppingly good, but lyrically I have a hard time relating to any of his tale of Christian awakening, and his subsequent exit from the brilliant Spock's Beard was disappointing to many long-term fans, me included. His last album with that band, 'Snow', was one of my desert island discs, and in an interview to support it he explained to me how he was looking forward to touring it and maybe even playing it in its entirety, only for the next few weeks to reveal that at the time we spoke he'd already made his decision to leave. Subsequent Morse albums have been much easier listens, even despite the ever-present Christian themes, but I can't say a further instalment of 'Testimony' was how I would have wanted him to follow a triumphant year with the Prog supergroup Transatlantic, even if you do get Mike Portnoy on drums throughout.

'Testimony 2' is another major piece of work with the main story (on disc one of this 2 disc set) covering his time with Spock's Beard and up to his departure. There are three parts, each divided into four or five songs, the whole thing covering a mammoth 78 minutes, although he has managed to keep all but the last one at well under ten minutes. Part Six (the first one – one to five were on the first 'Testimony') is probably the most upbeat and is made up of a brilliant and typically grandiose Morse song with huge arrangements and a Transatlantic feel ('Mercy Street'), a complex prog instrumental ('Overture No.4') and a big ballad ('Jayda'), whilst the major talking point will undoubtedly be 'Time Changer' – an obtuse Spock's Beard type song with an a capella section and plenty of quirky, off-the-wall ensemble playing. The oddest thing about it though, given the events of the last decade, is that it's played and sung by most of the current Spock's Beard line-up, reuniting with their former frontman for a tune that pays homage to what they had.

Part Seven is a little more low-key and has a few musical departures, like the straight boogie parts of 'Nighttime Collectors', the Beatles-like 'Time Has Come Today', and the emotional and bluesy 'Jesus' Blood', where the lyrics make things a little uncomfortable before the progressive epic 'The Truth Will Set You Free' picks things up again.

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I have to admit that Part Eight is where most of the talking points are, as that's the part of the story where he actually leaves the band, with 'Jesus Bring Me Home', 'Road Dog Blues' and 'It's For You' being the most poignant and heartfelt lyrics on the whole album, and with music to match. If you compare the album to 'The Whirlwind' then 'The Crossing/Mercy Street Revisited' is the coda that brings all the musical and lyrical themes together in one emotionally brilliant crescendo, the way only Neal Morse can.

If it's light relief you want – and let's face it, you probably need it at this point – then the 37 minute disc two features just three stand-alone tracks. 'Absolute Beginner' is a simple rocker that's so unlike his usual writing style, and 'Supernatural' is a superb upbeat song with great hooks and melodies, but it's the 26 minute 'Seeds Of Gold' that's probably the most valuable addition here. It twists and turns in typical Morse fashion with more good ideas than most artists have in their entire careers. There's plenty of light and shade, different song parts, time changes and great keyboard solos, not to mention an extended guitar solo from guest Steve Morse (no relation!)

Like the rest of his output, 'Testimony 2' is brilliantly written and produced, and the limited edition version of it includes the usual 'making of' DVD from Morse's ever present camcorder. If you've stuck with him thus far then this is a no-brainer and another addition to what's becoming quite a phenomenal catalogue.

Phil Ashcroft

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