|Musical Style: Progressive Rock||Produced By: Neal Morse|
|Record Label: Radiant||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2004||Artist Website: Neal Morse|
|Tracks: 8||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 79:55|
Neal who? Those of you who have followed the progressive rock scene over the past decade will certainly have no difficulty answering that question: Neal Morse was the vocalist and keyboardist for the critically acclaimed but oddly named progressive rock band Spock's Beard. Co-founding the group in the early nineties with his brother Alan, Morse proceeded to release 10 CDs and 2 DVDs with Spock's Beard in addition to 6 CDs and 3 DVDs with the progressive rock super group Transatlantic. After becoming a Christian in 2000, however, Morse left both bands to pursue a solo career. His 2003 solo effort, the 2 CD set Testimony, featured over two hours of music as it chronicled his spiritual journey set in both music and words. Following up a year later with a concept CD entitled One, Morse moves in a more over-the-top progressive rock direction when compared to the pop-rock based sounds of Testimony. And with eight tracks and nearly eighty minutes of music, One comes across sweeping and epic in its capacity, harkening back to his work with Spock's Beard and Transatlantic.
Morse is the creative genius behind the album, a multi-instrumental virtuoso with a level of skill in the areas of songwriting and musicianship that brings to mind Kerry Livgren (Proto-Kaw, Kansas). In addition to rounding out the mix on keyboards, Morse handles all the albums guitar duties, his style of playing ranging from the hard rock rhythm guitar of "Author Of Confusion" to the bluesy leads decorating "The Creation" and "Help Me/The Spirit And The Flesh". As a vocalist, he contributes a very fine clean and smooth sounding lead vocal style. Morse, at the same time, has brought in a number of talented musicians to help him out on One: Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater fame comes through with a solid performance on drums, while Randy George (Ajalon) rounds out the mix with his heavy duty bass lines. Phil Keaggy makes a guest appearance with two guitar solos, one electric and the other acoustic, in addition to backing Morse on vocals on the track "Cradle To The Grave".
As for the concept behind One, I find that David Atkinson of revelationz.net sums it up best in his well written review of the album:
So the questions, "What is the story?" "What is One all about?"
beg answering. Well the Bible has lots of little stories to really
paint one big picture. One is Neal's artistic rendering of that
big picture and it goes basically like this: In the beginning God
and Man were of one mind, God withheld none of Himself from Man and
His Creation except that Man should not eat of the Tree of the
Knowledge of Good and Evil. Still God let that choice to eat or
not be Man's own decision. Most of you are aware what
happened...he ate. This caused Man to fall and become separated
from God because of the sin. Man walks his own path to self
destruction. God devises a plan to get Man back, we call it
Salvation, and the result is the opportunity for all men to become
'One' with God again. That's the short of it and I'll leave it
you to follow the story in the album...it's very cool and very
interesting and travels along just like a great movie script!1
A bright and crystal clear sounding production job allows for sonics lacking any trace or hint of muddiness. A near perfect separation of bass and drums stands alongside a clean mix of lead guitar and just the right amount of rhythm guitar. Keyboards and orchestration add just the right amount of touch without becoming a detracting factor.
Coming in at eighteen minutes, album opener "The Creation" is broken down into four parts. After the four minute instrumental passage opening "One Mind" moves forward to a combination of orchestration and keyboards, Morse cuts loose with some bluesy leads backed by George's pounding bass. The song advances in an upbeat fashion as a piano helps bolster its first verse before an organ enters the mix and drives the chorus that follows. "One Mind" describes the relationship between God and man immediately following creation:
We were of one mind
All creation came
We lived to praise His name
And we walked His way
In the cool of the day
A piano and acoustic guitar slowly propels the first verse to "In A Perfect Light" until it picks up in pace for the second, Keaggy's wonderful guitar solo helping to carry the ensuing extended instrument passage. Keyboards preside over the song during its third verse as it details the role of Adam and Eve:
And He let him name the things that are
And He asked his opinion...
And he was made into two
And He gave them a job to do
And they were to care for every part
And love was the union
A somber mood is created as over a minute of keyboards and orchestration interwoven with a bit of lead guitar leads the way to "Where Are You?". Introduced to a piano as vocal harmonies support Morse during its first verse, the song tapers off to a near crawl at the start of an instrumental break highlighting a slowly played guitar solo. "Where Are You?" culminates as it abruptly picks up in pace for its second and final verse. "Where Are You" is written from the standpoint of God following the fall of man:
Children where are you?
Why are you hiding?
You were ashamed
You fled my eyes
I gave you life
And all that I wanted
Was just one thing
But you chose a lie
Taking off to a minute of sweeping keyboards and pounding drums, the song slows to a mid-tempo pace for the catchy "Reaching From The Heart" as vocal harmonies help drive its first and only verse.
The brief (2:50) acoustic based ballad "The Man's Gone" slowly moves ahead as it describes events following man's banishment from the Garden of Eden:
Cast out from the place of Eden
A mighty gulf placed in between them
Look around but no one's seen them together anymore
The man's gone to make his way alone...
By far the albums heaviest track, "Author Of Confusion" embarks to a hard rocking guitar riff that underlines the instrumental passage driving the song over its first four minutes. Stopping dead in its tracks, Morse proceeds to sing acappella as he is underscored by a cacophony of backing voices during a very compelling chorus delivered at an upbeat tempo. After the rhythm section kicks in when its chorus is repeated a second time, the song tapers off for the slower keyboard driven verse that follows. "Author Of Confusion" picks up in pace and peaks as Morse cuts loose with several seconds of gritty lead guitar work ensued by the same cacophony of backing vocals propelling its chorus. The song reverts back to a hard rocking direction over its last minute. Brilliant. "Author Of Confusion" is about the deceiver; the ancient serpent; the one who literally "authors confusion":
Author of confusion you play inside my mind and I want to run
But where can I hide?
Author of confusion your aim is to confound 'til I do not know
Which is up or down
Author of confusion you start an endless chase; thoughts start running 'round
Never find their place
"The Separated Man" is another eighteen minute four part epic. Commencing to "I'm In A Cage", a full and heavy rhythm guitar sound fortified by keyboards impels the songs first and second verse before it picks up in pace for a hard hitting chorus buttressed by background vocals. "I'm In A Cage" touches upon the issue of man's separation from God:
There's a reason
Why the storm is raging
There's a reason
Why you feel alone
(the man's gone to make his way alone)
There's a reason
Why your soul's been caged in
Can't you feel your need
to come back home?
The blend of acoustic guitar and keyboards leading the way to "I Am The Man" slowly carries its first and second verse as it focuses on man's separation from God and how he has rebelled against Him:
I can't see your throne
So I will build my own
I'll build it high and tall
The world will see
I don’t' need YOU at all
Suddenly breaking out in a guitar driven manner, the song again slows for an acoustic guitar upon reaching its third verse. A trade off between passages moving in a hard rocking direction and those driven by keyboards takes it forward as Morse delivers lyrics written from the standpoint of God:
One hope - One life
One eternal fact
You're a part of me
And I want you back
The songs final verse sums up its message best:
And you won't find me
By living for the flesh
'Til you come home
I won't let you rest
An acoustic guitar carries the first verse of "The Man's Gone (Reprise)" and the first part of the five minute atmospheric instrumental passage that follows. Once Morse steps forward with several seconds of lead guitar work, the rhythm guitar takes over and pushes the song through its conclusion hard and heavy.
Orchestration and keyboards leads the way to "Something Within Me Remembers" as it slows to a piano and an acoustic guitar.
The acoustic guitar carrying "Cradle To The Grave" through its first verse is joined by a piano upon reaching its slowly moving chorus. After Keaggy takes on lead vocal duties during both the songs second verse and chorus, he backs Morse as it closes by twice repeating its chorus. "Cradle To The Grave" is written from the standpoint of both man and God- Man is saying he does not need God because God has let him down:
How I wish I could be relieved
Fall on God's door step
And be received
But it seems he doesn't
Care for me anymore
On the other hand, God is saying you distanced yourself from me and all I have is love for you:
Son you must understand
Why I would let you fall
It isn't because I don't love you
I let you choose; you have chosen
You don't seem to want me at all
"Help Me/The Spirit And The Flesh" is a wonderful two part number ranking among the albums strongest tracks. A piano opens "Help Me" as it moves forward to a near jazz-like rhythm until gaining further momentum for a strong chorus coming across in the form of a man's cry to God:
Help me I have fallen and I can't get up
But I believe that You can lift me up
If you're God please lift me up
All the while Morse decorates the scene with his spicy work on lead guitar. I like how the song breaks for a very well done classical guitar interlude before repeating its chorus one last time.
The album reaches its high-water mark with "The Spirit And The Flesh". The song slowly advances through its first verse as it represents God's response to man's cry for help:
I have heard you crying in the night
I have heard your prayers at the morning light
Now I'll dwell among you on the earth
I'll send my Son...
Picking up in pace with a plethora of emotion for its second and third verse, "The Spirit And The Flesh" focus' on the person of Christ, the "One" who can make us "One" with God again:
He will raise the dead
The starving shall be fed
He will take your pain
Your suffering and shame
He will span the crest
Between the spirit and the flesh
He will raise the dead
Jesus came to lift us from the mud
God indwelling in real flesh and blood
The songs final verse sums things up best:
Though the soul had died
It can be made alive
The holy place was closed
'Til Jesus rose!
Once a piano carries the ballad "Father Of Forgiveness" through its first and second verse and chorus, it picks up in pace when the rhythm guitar enters the mix. I like how the song culminates as Morse exclaims "Let's reach up to the Father" backed by a gospel choir stating "in Jesus Christ". The message to "Father Of Forgiveness" ties into the parable of the Prodigals son:
Who's up that up the road?
The man who went his own way
Who wasted all his winnings
Has he come home to stay
The son who'd lost his way
Oh, Father I've returned
The one who left alone
And You give me Your Kingdom
And tell me it's my own
And I see Your open arms
One closes to the three part nine minute "Reunion". Getting underway to a well placed horn section, "No Separation" advances in an upbeat manner until culminating for a chorus effectively reinforced by more of the same type of horns opening it. "No Separation" celebrates the fact man has finally returned to God and come back to the unity they had at the time of creation:
Now the way is open for us
A sacrifice made to restore us
To bring us back
the way we used to be
As we once were in the garden
Through His Son He gave the pardon
Now we can come back
as priests and kings!
The energy-laden instrumental "Grande Finale" moves ahead to the horn section in question as Portnoy lets loose with some incredible pounding work on drums. A keyboard solo proceeds to propel the song until Morse furnishes several seconds of lead guitar work.
"Reunion" abruptly slows as a piano quietly takes the catchy "Make Us One" its entire distance, beautiful vocal harmonies effectively accentuating the song and adding to its worshipful feel:
One heart - One voice
One love - One Spirit
On our knees with open arms
we worship in one spirit
In closing, I often end up skipping over the albums shorter and more-ballad like tracks such as "The Man's Gone", "Cradle To The Grave" and "Father Of Forgiveness". That being said, it must be a credit to Morse's songwriting genius that he can come up with such a high volume of quality material, my favorite tracks on One being those that move in a heavier and more progressive influenced musical direction such as "The Creation", "Author Of Confusion", "Help Me/The Spirit And The Flesh" and "Reunion".
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: "The Creation" (18:22), "The Man’s Gone" (2:50), "Author Of Confusion" (9:30), "The Separated Man" (17:58), "Cradle To The Grave" (4:55), "Help Me/The Spirit And The Flesh" (11:13), "Father Of Forgiveness" (5:46), "Reunion" (9:11)
Neal Morse – Lead Vocals, Guitars & Keyboards
Randy George – Bass
Mike Portnoy – Drums
Phil Keaggy – Guitars & Lead Vocals
Chris Carmichael – Viola & Violin
Michael Thurman – French Horn
Rachel Rigdon – Violin
Hannah Vanderpool – Cello
Dave Jacques – String Bass
Jim Hoke – Saxophone
Neil Rosengarden – Trumpet
Bill Huber – Trombone
Glenn Caruba – Percussion
Shore, Tony. "Close To The Edge: The Journey Of Neal Morse." HM 102 (2003): 20-21.
1 David Atkinson, “One Review.” Online article available from: www.revelationz.net