“Let the great adventure now begin…”; the closing lines of The Neal Morse Band’s last and widely acclaimed 2016 album The Similitude Of A Dream (TSOAD), have proved to be strangely prophetic.
The band faced the enviable problem (like Pink Floyd, The Eagles and many other great bands before them) of having to follow up a hugelysuccessful album, as drummer Mike Portnoy explains, “How do you follow an epic double concept album??? Well, create another epic double album!! I always knew topping The Similitude Of A Dream was going to be difficult, if not impossible, as I held it in such high regard... but I am absolutely blown away with what we have achieved here! We’ve created the ultimate companion to TSOAD.”
The new album – appropriately entitled The Great Adventure – is exactly that: a perfect companion piece to TSOAD’s partial retelling of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Morse admits that the band’s original intentions on re-entering the studio were largely to produce something very different from what has resulted. However, as the writing and recording process unfolded, it gradually became clear to the band that the unerring direction in which the music was heading was to build upon the work already completed in TSOAD, again using the space that the broader canvas of the double album format provides. Bassist Randy George explains, “I was sure that the follow up to TSOAD should be something quite different, but you have to follow your heart and go where the music wants to go.”
True to the album’s title, the creative process was indeed a ‘great adventure.’Unlike many previous Morse albums, which have often been recorded in around a week, as many as 21 days of initial recording were laid down by these prolific and world-class musicians, producing an abundance of top quality material – enough for an album lasting well over two hours. This meant some ruthless decision-making: some already completed songs and characters had to go, and with studio time running out,new links and ideas were being composed and recorded up to the eleventh hour. “A lot of work and re-work has gone into this,” says Morse, “but I know that some of the most successful and far-reaching albums I’ve been involved with have been just like that - Sola Scriptura and Spock’s Beard’s Snow album come to mind.”
Another key question that had to be addressed was how to pull all theideas together into a coherent whole. In the end, what unlocked this‘adventure’ for Morse was the realisation that The Great Adventureneeded a new voice and perspective. This time, it isthat of the Pilgrim’s abandoned son, a younger, perhaps angrier, voice than was heard on TSOAD, as George explains, “The Great Adventure is nothing short of a miracle: it’s similar to TSOAD in concept and form, but it’s tougher and deeper in tone! It’s a very powerful work and I look forward to playing it live!”
The Great Adventure has everything that fans would expect from a Neal Morse Band album, and more: rock, metal, classical and jazz elements appear throughout, as well as some killer melodies, all played faultlessly by some of the greatest rock musicians on the planet.Says Morse, “This band continues to amaze me! I have to say it was a little daunting to follow up The Similitude of a Dream, as it was such a special album and it delivered every night at our concerts. But The Great Adventureis everything that I hoped it would be! I listened through it yesterday and I was in tears at the end!”
The Neal Morse Band will take the new album on tour worldwide in early 2019: it promises to be a great adventure indeed.
Born in 1960 to a musical family in California, Neal Morse formed and played in many bands in his youth, learning and mastering several instruments along the way. In 1995, he wrote and recorded with his band Spock’s Beard The Light, an album based firmly in the then unfashionable progressive (‘prog’) rock genre. This album quickly became a modern prog classic and began to bring Neal and the band global recognition. In 2000, he also joined forces with Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Peter Trewavas (Marillion) and RoineStolt (The Flower Kings) to form Transatlantic, a ‘progsupergroup’ that won further acclaim - and yet more fans - across the world. A second supergroup with Portnoy followed - Flying Colors – which also features Steve Morse (Deep Purple), Casey McPherson (Endochine), and Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs), with whom he earned his first #1 international chart position.
Forging out on his own in 2003, Neal has made a series of ground-breaking albums, including the widely-acclaimed Testimony and Sola Scriptura. In 2015 he formed The Neal Morse Band, featuring long-time collaborators Mike Portnoy (drums) and Randy George (bass), as well as Bill Hubauer (keyboards) and Eric Gillette (guitar). The band’s first album - The Grand Experiment–showed both a freshness and maturity that was further developed in 2016’s The Similitude Of A Dream.
Photo: Robert Smith