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Sola Scriptura

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Album Review

Guitar maniac and songwriter Neal Morse is no stranger to conceptual albums, having been the founder of Spock's Beard. Morse decided to leave the band and pursue his own vision of uniting his faith with his music unabashedly and without subtlety. He did this first on the double album Testimony in 2003, followed it up in 2005 with ?, and continues it on his most ambitious and perhaps most controversial project yet in Sola Scriptura. With a rhythm section of bassist Randy George and drummer Mike Portnoy from tech-metal progenitors Dream Theater, Morse also enlisted the help of fellow guitar wizard Paul Gilbert on a few tracks, and employed strings, a French horn, and a chorus of backing vocalists to help him realize the project. At the risk of oversimplifying, Morse has written a work based around Martin Luther's posting his thesis on the Wittenburg Door and bringing about the Reformation, the great schism where Protestantism was created.

Morse claims in his brief liner essay that he had no knowledge of Luther's rabid anti-Semitism when he wrote the album and considered not recording it when he learned this. He also says "...but I feel that the main point is that the way God used him to protest false religion is still a good example of courage and boldness for a Godly cause." Hmmm. One has to wonder what those who practice Judaism feel about this. There is more to disagree with here, because not only in his album's lyrics but in his strange disclaimer at the end of his notes about not singling out only one church needing reform — he does just this nonetheless by celebrating the great contributions of the Wesleyans and the Pentecostals. Morse, who uses his own approximations of Gregorian chant and high sacred choral music that far preceded the Reformation, seemingly doesn't see the contributions made by the Church to the culture of the West and to music in general. There is some ignorance in Morse's lofty intentions not only of histories both religious and social, but of culture in particular — he should have never written that disclaimer because he's opened himself to speculations about his own sense of prejudice.

Does this make the music bad? Hardly. As prog heads into the 21st century, it's genuinely creative, innovative as it weaves elements of jazz and classical music as well Afro-Caribbean rhythms into his metallic attack. His beautifully dovetailed lyrical segments are almost seamless in that they travel from Luther's original problematics and arguments with the Catholic Church to the fall of Babylon and the renewal of a new Christian faith as the result of mass repentance. As a Church in Morse's use of scripture is both literal and liberal here, this can be slippery, but his musicality cannot be faulted. His is an unbelievably gifted man whose sense of a whole contains all the pretensions of prog's original excesses, but his sense of weeding down instrumental passages, time shifts, and thematic and textural changes is almost always tasteful and instinctually in keeping with his rock & roll guitar player's heart. The four tracks on this set are divided into numerous subsections that are always warranted in context with the production angle of this music, making it as big as the history he's trying to portray and as close to scale as possible. Musically, Sola Scriptura is as close to brilliant as it gets. There are other issues involved, as pointed out here, and these too are simply questions of interpretation. To his credit, Morse invites discussion at his website.

Customer Reviews

Sola Scriptura...

Was the slogan of the Protestant Reformation. It is Latin, and means "Scripture Alone". That pretty much sums up this album. It is the story of the beginning of the protestant reformation, when Martin Luther realized the flaws in Roman Catholicism and Challenged them. Neal's new cd is about Martin Luther. Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater is doing the drumming for this album. He is an incrdible drummer, except I believe he has influenced Neal away from the symphonic prog, more towards the progressive metal. This release does an excellent job of blending Dream Theater metal with Spock's Beard symphonic prog. I think of this album as one song. They are all very similar (Except for "Heaven In My Heart") and have recurring themes. I think my favorite is "The Door" because of it's symphonic sound and incredible melodies. "The Conclusion" leans more toward the progressive metal side. "Heaven In My Heart" is a nice short break. It sounds a lot like popular christian music today. "The Conclusion" kind wraps everything up, reprising themes from the other songs. Overall, I think this is a very good album. I'm a Christian, and am thankful for Neal's influence in the wonderful world of Progressive Rock

It's a shame about Neil's fans...

You always get some reviews by disgruntled Spock's Beard fans who can't come to grip with the fact that Neil is now a Christian. It's a shame, because that closed-mindedness is keeping them from enjoying his best work. Neil is clearly at the top of his game here, musically and lyrically. I suppose some people only think "progressive" applies to music when it doesn't challenge them, provoke them, or inspire them. Funny, because that's what I though "progressive" music was all about.

Who writes the main album reviews.....

I get so sick of reading how this album or that album shares to much of what the artist personally believes, when they are totally sharring how they believe in their review! If your reviewing the music, review it! Quit bashing it because the guys a christian! I love this album....it sounds like Keith Green on Crack!

Biography

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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Sola Scriptura, Neal Morse
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