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Album Review

This is where it all opens up and changes. Neal Morse is the former frontman of Spock's Beard, the California prog rock monolith. While not his first solo effort, Testimony it is easily his most compelling and provocative. Testimony is a concept album based around Morse's personal testimonial of his life before and after encountering his center, Jesus Christ. Before any of you reach for the mouse button to click off, it might be worth reading a little further to find out why this is musically one of the more engaging progressive rock records in particular and rock & roll albums in general this year. Morse's vision is still one that is sophisticated and sprawling. His attention to detail is even greater and he brings so many elements into his mix that it will make the punters' heads spin. Here, folk, prog, classical, and beautiful singing and arrangements entwine with a challenging, moving, and provocative story. Conceptually, Testimony is divided into five parts over two CDs. Disc one features a gorgeous overture and elements of Laurel Canyon rock that are contrasted with gargantuan tracks loaded with keyboards and strings as the story moves from looking over a life spent in innocence and then loneliness and darkness. Disc two concentrates on the time period after conversion, with themes of transformation, surrender, willingness, and beatitude as well as struggling with doubt — only to persevere in the wealth and mystery that come with discovering meaning in life.

Production-wise, Testimony is seamless, full of fantastic dynamics and dramatic layering of instruments, voices, and "ambiences." Really, if Brian Wilson were into the big rock & roll business, the textured nuances found here would suit him fine, even if the screaming guitars and progressive jazz horn charts wouldn't. There are many guests on Morse's album: Kerry Livgren, Mike Portnoy, Aaron Marshall, Pamela Ward, Terry White, and Rich Mouser just to name a few. The bottom line is this: Testimony is, as a modern rock & roll album, a solid and engaging work that wears its heart firmly on its sleeve and dwells not in clever ambiguities, but in passion and pathos. As a "Christian rock" record, it lays the land for the kind of aesthetic excellence that should go into a project that uses the gospel as its inspiration. There are no tired clichés, no dumbed-down messages, and no fake exuberance for the praise crowd. The CCM industry will have a hard time co-opting this one because it not only doesn't suck, it reveals just how artistically bankrupt some of their productions really are. This deserves to be heard by fans of Marillion, Yes, ELP, early Genesis, and yes, fans of Spock's Beard. Actually, it deserves to be heard by anyone interested in the power of great music. Sadly, our current critical and cultural climate — in the media especially — is too far gone in creating personality cults and endless narcissistic self-referencing to take a record like this very seriously as art. That's too bad; it's our loss.

Customer Reviews

Keeps getting better!

I was first introduced to Neal, picking up the Spock's Beard Album "V"--a stunning work for prog fans. This is his third album in the prog line, although I don't want to turn you off by labeling the music. Not only technically briliant and quite competent on a number of instruments, he is also an excellent writer. This album is a testament to that and includes some great moments by Steve Hackett (ex-Genesis), Jordan Rudeness (Dream Theater), and his brother Alan (Spock's Beard). The Steve Hackett guitar additions are very distinctive and definitely "goose-bump" moments. A great addition to your collection--give it a shot and you won't be dissapointed!--Richard H


Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Los Angeles singer/songwriter and guitarist Neal Morse began his musical career early, taking piano lessons at five and performing in musicals and beginning guitar by the age of nine. By the time he reached his twenties, Morse wrote two musicals and played with Al Stewart and Peter White. After returning from an extensive European trip, Morse formed the progressive rock band Spock's Beard with his brother Al; the group released its debut album, The Light, in 1994. In addition to his duties with Spock's...
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