The Neal Morse Band - 'The Grand Experiment' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     April 23, 2015    
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This is quite possibly Album Of The Year already.

'The Grand Experiment' signals changes in the Neal Morse camp; being billed as The Neal Morse Band is an obvious one, another being a different approach to the song-writing. Hitherto Morse has all the material written before recording commences; this time nothing was developed beforehand, the band convened and created the songs together.

Sound wise there are some different flavours in evidence which I suspect is a consequence of this new creative process and the individuals involved; the technical and heavier influences of Mike Portnoy (drums) and Eric Gillette (guitars & vocals) coming through in certain instances; Randy George (bass) and Bill Hubauer (keyboards & vocals) making up the highly accomplished quintet.

'Following The Call' is an exquisite opening with all the hallmarks of Morse at his best. The A Cappella section which starts the song is delightful, more redolent of The Eagles covering 'Seven Bridges Road' than the usual Gentle Giant variant. When the organ and synth motifs kick in you know you're in for something special as they ooze melody; but then it gets even better with Gillette's wonderful guitar refrain. The chorus is glorious and the way the instrumentation works together is joyous, as is the switch to a quiet middle section which then bursts into a heavier piece dripping with synths, Mellotron sounds and a Dream Theater-esque break where Gillette shines. The synth solo is magnificent too. It all equates to ten minutes of near perfection.

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The title track sees a new side of Morse. The verses, and guitar solo, are in a Hard Rock vein while the bridge and chorus are typical Morse. 'Waterfall' is a beautiful acoustic number that rivals Spock's Beard's 'June'; the vocal arrangement is fantastic. The chiming guitars evoke early Genesis while the multi-layered vocals on the chorus are wonderful. The keyboard outro smacks of Genesis but circa the 'Wind & Wuthering' album.

'Agenda' is perhaps the most radical departure from Morse's usual style, not least because of its brevity. Processed vocals and a modern, heavy guitar riff juxtaposed with a Beatle-ish chorus.

Having opened with a mini epic the album closes with a major one, in every sense of the word, with 'Alive Again' clocking in at twenty six minutes, although it feels shorter. Again it has everything one has come to expect from Morse plus some of those newer, heavier elements. Multiple compelling themes and refrains abound and are combined seamlessly to make a glorious whole; interestingly Morse shares lead vocal duties. Another Dream Theater-esque instrumental section is superbly delivered, as one would expect.

As always with Morse related tunes they were in my head immediately. This is quite possibly Album Of The Year already!

Gary Marshall

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