All posts by Thaddeus Wert

High school math teacher and fan of all kinds of music, but most of all prog.

In The DropBox: Flying Colors, Nick Mason, Djabe with Steve Hackett, and Gazpacho

The DropBox overfloweth this week: two live sets, an interesting prog/jazz offering, and the new Gazpacho album.

First up, Flying Colors’ third live album, Third Stage: Live In London, recorded during the tour in support of 2019’s excellent Third Degree. The prog supergroup of Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Dave LaRue, Casey McPherson, and Neal Morse just gets better and better. This is a two-disc set featuring the cream of their crop of arena-rock style prog. The rhythm section of Portnoy and LaRue is insane, especially LaRue’s funky bass. If you aren’t familiar with Flying Colors, this is the perfect introduction. If you’re a fan, it’s the best document of their scorching live prowess yet recorded.

Next up is Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets. This is a real treat: Nick Mason, original drummer for Pink Floyd, put together a talented group of musicians to play a relaxed set of pre-Dark Side Of The Moon classics at the Roundhouse. If all you know about the Floyd is DSOTM and later, these songs (with the exception of the Meddle ones) will surprise you. They are playful and psychedelic in a very charming way. Gary Kemp, of Spandau Ballet fame, handles vocals, and he is terrific. It’s obvious both the band and the audience are having a great time, and Nick Mason has not lost his chops one bit.

The Magic Stag, by Hungarian group Djabe, is hard to categorize. The first few songs sound like some sort of raga/smooth jazz hybrid, as if Bob James found himself in Bollywood. Okay, I exaggerate, but there’s definitely an Indian feel to “Power of Wings” courtesy of a sitar jamming with trumpet. Steve Hackett lends his always tasteful guitar to seven of the eleven songs, and he and his wife wrote the lyrics to the title track.

The sixth track, “Unseen Sense” is the highlight, with some outstanding acoustic guitar work supporting a beautiful melody. This is a song worthy of stellar fusion artists such as Oregon, Weather Report, or Mark Isham. The rest of the album maintains the high standard set by this track. If you are looking for a nice album to play on a lazy Sunday morning, Djabe’s The Magic Stag is a perfect choice.

Anything new from Gazpacho is big news, and it’s been two years since we heard from them. Fireworker is their latest, and it is somewhat of a departure from previous efforts. I, for one, am glad to see them stretch out a little. The past few albums were starting to sound a little interchangeable. This one kicks off with the 20-minute epic “Space Cowboy”, which features a huge choir. It’s as if Carl Orff took his Carmina Burana and scored it for a prog rock group. That sounds ambitious, but Gazpacho pulls it off with aplomb.

This song cycle, like most of Gazpacho’s, has a unifying concept. In the words of keyboardist Thomas Andersen,

“There’s an instinctual part of you that lives inside your mind, separate from your consciousness. I call it the ‘Fireworker’ or the ‘Lizard’ or the ‘Space Cowboy.’ It’s an eternal and unbroken lifeforce that’s survived every generation, with a new version in each of us. It’s evolved alongside our consciousness, and it can override us and control all of our actions.” In order to get us to do what it wants, he clarifies, the “Fireworker” will silence the parts of our mind that feel disgust or remorse so that we’re unable to stop it. The conscious part of our mind, Andersen notes, will actually “rationalize and legitimize” those thoughts and actions so that we never discover the beast behind-the-scenes. No matter how we feel about ourselves in terms of identity, accomplishments, and value, we’re all just vessels—or “Sapiens”—that the creature uses until it no longer needs us. “If you play along,” Andersen explains, “It’ll reward you like a puppy and let you feel fantastic; if you don’t, it’ll punish you severely.”

From arena prog, through psychedelic pop, to jazz prog, and finally Norwegian choral prog (for want of a better term!), this is the most eclectic batch of music we’ve ever pulled from the DropBox. I’ll leave you with a little Djabe and Steve Hackett:

 

In The DropBox: Arcade Messiah, Katatonia, and Pineapple Thief

John Bassett was very active in the mid 2010s with his KingBathMat, solo, and Arcade Messiah projects. KingBathMat was a quirky prog group that released five excellent albums of melodic metal, while Arcade Messiah began as an instrumental outfit. AM has released a few EPs since 2016’s III, but Bassett is back with a vengeance in 2020, and it sounds like he never left. In fact, he has taken the best elements of KingBathMat and Arcade Messiah and melded them into a sleek prog-metal machine. He’s now working exclusively under the Arcade Messiah moniker, and their latest effort is The Host. It features his trademark gift for a memorable melody delivered with crunching guitars. If you like your prog rock on the heavy side while remaining hummable, then your can’t go wrong with Arcade Messiah’s latest.

Katatonia’s City Burials is their followup to 2017’s magnificent The Fall of Hearts. This is a set of songs that explore the sadness and sense of loss one gets as one realizes that the past is buried forever. “Behind The Blood” is a ferocious rocker in the tradition of past Katatonia, but the majority of tracks are more hushed and tender. Jonas Renkse’s vocals have never been more warmer and more expressive as they are here. “Vanishers” features a beautiful duet between Renkse and Anni Bernhard that is a highlight. Katatonia’s evolution from extremely dark metal to melodic prog has been fascinating, and City Burials is their strongest effort yet.

Speaking of evolutions, The Pineapple Thief has fully emerged from their Radiohead/minimalist origins, and with Versions Of The Truth they are now one of the finest prog/pop groups active today. In the early 1980s, The Police were one of the biggest groups in the world. Their secret power was letting Stewart Copeland’s drums take the lead, and having Andy Summers’ guitar provide the rhythm.

With Gavin Harrison, The Pineapple Thief have a percussionist as gifted as Copeland, and his drums are way up in the mix, propelling the entire project. Every song is credited to both Harrison and Bruce Soord, and these are the finest set PT has ever recorded. Gone are the 20+ minutes-long meandering explorations, to be replaced by perfectly crafted pop miniatures. Even the longest one – “Our Mire” at 7:26 – is a masterpiece of concision. Stylistically they range from the laconic “Driving Like Maniacs” to the pulverizing “Break It All”, and there isn’t a clunker in the lot.

Three albums, three winners. 2020 isn’t a total disaster!

In The DropBox: Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly & Pain of Salvation

For the past week I have been listening to new albums from Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly and Pain of Salvation. They are labelmates on InsideOut, and they are both excellent efforts.

I’m familiar with Sjöblom through his stellar work with Big Big Train, and he also led Beardfish. Gungfly is now his outlet for his solo work. For their second release, he has pared down Gungfly to a trio with Petter and Rasmus Diamant on drums and bass respectively, while Rikard tackles everything else – and “everything else” covers a lot of instruments!

Overall, it’s a rocking effort with Sjöblom’s vocals running the gamut from a warm and intimate tenor to a harsh low-register rasp. The first track, Traveler, immediately grabs the listener with a driving rhythm that conveys an urgent sense of movement. Sjöblom sings of the difficulties of traveling and being away from family. The fact that its more than 13-minute length feels much briefer is a testament to how well it is constructed.

Happy Somewhere In Between, the first single, is a catchy rocker with a bit of a hoedown feel to it. The rhythm section of the Diamant brothers really shines on this track, effortlessly keeping pace with some very tricky changes.

Clean As A Whistle is a pleasant change of pace with an acoustic guitar opening and a beautiful melody worthy of Nick Drake. It slowly builds in intensity until it explodes into a synthesizer/electric guitar jam.

Alone Together is a song that tugs at the heartstrings. It is a sensitive portrayal of the emotional turmoil parents of mentally ill children have to deal with. Sjöblom’s guitar solos remind me of Steve Howe’s work on Relayer. 

After the brief folky interlude of From Afar, the album closes with the epic On The Shoulders Of Giants. In this delightful track, Sjöblom pays tribute to his prog forebears:

“What happened to me?
The boy who listened to Frank Zappa
And said, ‘This is what I want to be.'”

Sjöblom makes good use of nearly all of its 15 minutes length with some fine guitar work that showcases his talent. Alone Together is a very solid effort from Gungfly, and it illustrates Sjöblom’s mastery of guitar and keyboards as well as his maturity as a lyricist.

Pain Of Salvation’s Panther opens with a chugging, synth-heavy riff on Accelerator. It could fit right in with current “Synthwave” scene with its slightly retro sound paired with contemporary production. As always, Daniel Gildenlöw’s vocals are outstanding – his energy and passion never flagging for a moment.

Unfuture opens with a snaky acoustic blues riff that soon explodes into a full metal treatment which then retreats into a more subdued passage as Gildenlöw sings (as far as I can decipher), “Welcome to the new world/Which sounds sublime/A better and improved world/For our mankind.” This is a song dripping with menace and foreboding, yet sounding seductive and enticing.

In Gildenlöw ‘s words, “Panther is an album with many layers, but at the heart of it you will find my lifelong struggle to calibrate my interface towards mankind, trying to calculate the offset to a species that I have on some levels always felt myself estranged to. A feeling I think many can relate to. ”

His alienation comes through loud and clear throughout the album, which covers an extraordinary range of musical styles. There isn’t a single clunker in the bunch, either. It’s very hard to pick a favorite song, but I  particularly like the title track with its 16(!) tracks of guitar and chorus of “How does it feel to be you?” she once asked me
I said “I feel like a panther trapped in a Dog’s world”.

Another highlight is Species, with the lines, “I stopped watching the news/It was hurting me so/All that matters beats through/Like plutonium glow.” A relentless and addictive guitar riff underpins his frustration with modern media manipulation.

Panther closes with the epic Icon, which, now that I consider it, is the best track on the album. Okay, I admit it – every dang song on this album is irresistible! With Panther, Pain of Salvation have come up with a masterpiece that perfectly captures our current state of isolation and anxiety. It is an artistic triumph, and one of the best releases of 2020.

 

 

Sea of Tranquility Interviews Glass Hammer

Pete Pardo of Sea of Tranquility conducts an in-depth interview of Steve Babb and Fred Schendel, the artists otherwise known as Glass Hammer. While focusing primarily on their newest album, Dreaming City (reviewed on Spirit of Cecilia here), they also cover a wide range of prog-related topics.

Part 1 of the interview:

 

Part 2 of the interview, in which Steve reveals which GH album is “the Seinfeld of prog rock”:

An Interview With Neal Morse

Randy George, Neal Morse, and Mike Portnoy

I think Neal Morse is one of the most exciting and important artists working in music today. Since his embrace of Christianity almost twenty years ago, he has stayed true to his faith while writing and performing some of the most thoughtful and original music in all of rock. However,  his upcoming release, with long-time collaborators Randy George (bass) and Mike Portnoy (drums), is a collection of covers. It is the third album in their wonderfully fun Cover to Cover series, and Inside Out music is rereleasing the first two volumes with it in remastered form.

The new volume, Cov3r to Cov3r, features songs originally performed by Yes, Jethro Tull, David Bowie, Ringo Starr, Gerry Rafferty, Badfinger, King Crimson, Squeeze, Tom Petty, and Lenny Kravitz. While some are obvious hits (their version of Rafferty’s Baker Street is killer) others are deeper cuts, like Crimson’s One More Red Nightmare.

I had the pleasure of chatting with him on the phone while he was out walking with his daughter, enjoying a beautiful summer day in Tennessee.

Thanks for sharing a little of your time with me to discuss yours, Mike’s, and Randy’s new covers album! I think we’re pretty close to the same age, and if I made a massive mixtape of my favorite songs from high school and college, it would include every song on all three volumes of Cover to Cover. How do you all decide which songs to record?

Thanks! Mike loves to do covers, and he is the driving force behind most of these songs. The first two volumes are mostly bonus tracks from earlier albums. We’d finish an album, and the record company would ask us to do some songs for bonus tracks. We all love covers, because they are a wonderful way to blow off some steam after playing long and complicated prog tunes. If we’re on the road, and I’m doing a soundcheck, I can start playing some Zeppelin, and Mike will come running out of the dressing room to join in!

My favorite moment on the new album is pairing up Squeeze’s Black Coffee in Bed with Tempted. Whose idea was that?

That was mine – I used to play Black Coffee in Bed back in the ‘80s, along with Petty’s Running Down a Dream.

When I first heard the opening track, Yes’ “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Required”, I was wondering, “Who the heck is that singing?” Then I saw in the promo notes that it’s Jon Davison!

Yeah, we got together with him through playing Cruise to the Edge. When we looked at recording that song, I asked myself, “Can I sing this?”, and I realized there’s no way! So we were really glad Jon agreed to sing it.

I think I actually like your version of Baker Street better than the original. I’ve watched the video for it several times and  I get chills when you play your guitar solo. Who is the mystery sax player?

Thanks, man! That’s Jim Hoke, a local Nashville musician. He also does a great job on One More Red Nightmare, which is one of my favorite King Crimson songs.

Listening to all three volumes, it sounds like the three of you just had a blast recording these songs. What was it like recording during a pandemic?

We actually finished our recording before the pandemic hit. Mike recorded the drums in November, I did my stuff in December, and we mixed it in December and January. My “pandemic album” is my upcoming album, Solo Gratia, which I’m really excited about.

Are there any plans for you, Mike, and Randy to do some shows in support of Cover to Cover?

Well, we are going to play a bunch of covers the first night at Morsefest this September. Because of the virus, we have to limit the number of people who can be there in person, but we are also streaming it live, and we have some cool online VIP events planned, like charades and other interactive games.

I have the original versions of the first 2 Cover to Covers, and I notice you’ve changed the track order on the reissues. Why?

They are? I didn’t know that. Ha ha! Mike must have done that. He is the man for figuring out what the best order of tracks should be for albums. It’s his gift, you know, and we figure, let him use it!

I think Randy George is an unsung hero of the bass.  I’ve always wondered, how did you two first connect?

Oh, that’s an interesting story. He actually called me up – we had a mutual friend, and he asked me if I was interested in playing on a solo album of his. I think I was too busy at the time, and I put it off.  Then I had just left Spock’s Beard, I think it was around 2002, and he said he was willing to work with me if I had any projects. He drove all the way from Seattle to Tennessee to audition for my Testimony album, and we’ve been together ever since.

After Cover to Cover Vol 1 -3 is released in July, what other projects are you getting ready to unleash on the world?

Well, MorseFest is coming up in September, there’s a new Transatlantic album coming out next year, and I’m working on the mixes for my Solo Gratia album.

What are you listening to these days?

Ah, let’s see… mostly the Solo Gratia mixes. I am also listening to the audiobook of Andy Stanley’s Irresistible. As far as music goes, I was listening to Pandora’s Neal Morse station, and a really cool Frost* song came up. I’m a big fan of them.

One last question – what role should Christian artists play in today’s culture?

Well, I think we should be pointing people toward the Lord. I want people to experience God through my music; I’m trying to express the glory of God’s heart.

Yeah, I’m glad you didn’t get stuck in the CCM ghetto; you’re taking your music to whomever will listen to it.

You know, the old saying is true – God will provide. He has given me some incredible music for Solo Gratia. I’m the performer, but God is the director. I’m like a piece of glass reflecting his love and glory.

Can I make a request for Volume 4 of Cover to Cover? Something by Jellyfish, and something from Joe Walsh!

Ha Ha! Yeah, I know there are a lot of people who are fans of them, so that might happen one day.

Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Neal.

Sure! Take care!

Cover to Cover Volumes 1 – 3 will be released July 24, 2020 on Inside Out Music, on CD, vinyl, and digital formats.

You can order tickets to Morsefest 2020 at nealmorse.com.

 

 

 

Music to Soothe the Troubled Mind

I love “ambient”, “space”,  or whatever you want to call that style of music that is primarily electronic and, well, spacey. That said, there’s a fine line between good space music and aural wallpaper. Too much of it is simply banal and trite with clichéd melodies performed on cheesy synths.

Brian Eno is generally considered one of the founders of space music, along with Vangelis, Steve Roach, Tangerine Dream, and others who worked in the 1970s and ’80s. There is a thriving ambient/space music scene today, as evidenced by such Spotify playlists as Atmospheric Calm.

In this post, I want to focus on one artist: Ulrich Schnauss. I first became aware of him when he joined England’s Engineers for their third album, in Praise of More. Intrigued by his effect on their shoegazey sound, I began investigating his solo work, and I was not disappointed. As a matter of fact, I can safely say I have listened to Schnauss’ new box set of his remastered first six albums more than anything else this year. (And what a year 2020 is turning out to be.)

Entitled Now Is A Timeless Present, it is a stunning collection of space, shoegaze, soaring pop, and electronica. Schnauss manages to consistently thread that needle necessary to keep the listener engaged and wanting more. Every album in it has its own identity, yet one can listen to it and understand how he has developed organically to become one of the finest practitioners of ambient working today.

If I had to pick a favorite, it would be his third album, Goodbye, which features vocals that hover just outside the range of intelligibility, in the tradition of classic Cocteau Twins.

Schnauss has also collaborated with Engineers’ guitarist Mark Peters on two albums. I highly recommend their first, Underrated Silence.

He has also joined the latest iteration of Tangerine Dream, continuing that storied group’s career. His latest effort is another collaboration, this time with guitarist Jonas Munk, and it is also excellent. Entitled Passage, it features driving rhythms reminiscent of Tangerine Dream (no surprise there!) as well as beautiful melodies. I’ve posted the video for the opening track, Amaris, below.

If you want to hear more, I’ve put together a Spotify playlist of the tracks that I think are his best. The fact that it is almost 4 hours long indicates the consistently high quality of his music!

Through A Glass Hammer, Darkly

One thing I’ve learned in my eight years of being an avid Glass Hammer fan is to expect the unexpected. While every album of theirs is consistently excellent, there is not a consistent style that runs from their debut through to their latest offering, Dreaming City. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the onslaught of metal that greeted my ears when I cranked up the first track, The Dreaming City. Wait, is this the same group that gave us the light-hearted Chronomonaut last year? Yes, it is, and I like it. Actually, I love it! Under the massive guitar attack I can still hear Steve Babb’s melodic bass pounding away, and Fred Schendel’s keyboards providing bursts of furious punctuation.

The core group of Babb (lead vocals, bass), Schendel (guitars, vocals, keyboards), drummer Aaron Raulston, and singer Susie Bogdanowicz have augmented themselves with Reese Boyd (guitars, vocals), John Beagley (vocals), Brian Brewer (guitars), Joe Logan (vocals), James Byron Schoen (more guitar!), and Barry Seroff (flute). Dreaming City features the largest cast of contributors of any Glass Hammer album I am aware of, yet it doesn’t sound crowded or too busy. It’s a surprisingly lean production, with every instrument locked into the overall groove.

Dreaming City is the soundtrack to a very dark fantasy adventure, with the songs seamlessly flowing into each other, much like 2012’s Perilous. Our hero is a lowly thief, Skallagrim, who awakes in the land of Pagarna,  ruled by an evil sorcerer who has kidnapped his love. While in the Dreaming City, he is surrounded by evil ones who want to kill him. At the last possible moment, a sword appears over his head, which he grasps and uses it to save himself.

The sword, named Terminus, is possessed by an angel who provides the hero strength and hope during his daunting quest to rescue his love:

“And the sword is hope that comes from without by divine design, not from within.”

I won’t relate any more of the story, but there is a wonderful twist to it at the end which took me by surprise.

Musically, this is one of the most diverse and satisfying set of songs Glass Hammer has blessed us with. They are brimming with confidence and invention, and every track is a delight to listen to. The aforementioned opener, The Dreaming City, is the heaviest thing GH has ever recorded, while The Lonely World is an aural dose of pure pop. The angelic-voiced Susie Bogdanowicz sings lead on the beautiful October Ballad, while the epic closing track, The Watchman On The Wall, is a glorious and triumphant song that recalls the heyday of Permanent Waves-era  Rush.

I could rave about every single song, but I must single out Terminus for special praise. If Rush and  The Alan Parsons Project had a love child, Terminus would be it. A propulsive beat and a fantastic synth line serve a hook-laden melody to combine for a compulsive listen. Other highlights include the atmospheric instrumental tracks, Threshold of Dreams and The Tower, both of which are reminiscent of classic Tangerine Dream. But, as I wrote, every single song is outstanding.

What is most impressive about Dreaming City is how all the tracks come together to create a most satisfying whole. This is an album to listen to in its entirety, as it tells the compelling tale of an unlikely hero thrust into a desperate quest to overcome evil, and in the process find hidden strength within himself – with a little divine assistance. In Babb’s words, “This is all about evil people robbing us of our joy – holding it hostage. There can be unfortunate episodes in life where that happens and you can barely even remember what “joy” was like – may even become resigned to the thought that you may never know it again in this life, but determine to look for it nonetheless. So this was an important story for me and I hope it brings encouragement to many.”

Dreaming City is an extraordinary and career-defining work from one of America’s finest rock groups, and I can’t wait to hear what unexpected delights they have in store for us in the future.

 

Pendragon’s Love Over Fear – The One That Almost Got Away

The Stunning Artwork for Love Over Fear, by Liz Saddington

It never fails – I post a “Best of 20_ _” list, and then up pops a masterpiece that I missed. That is the case with 2019 and Pendragon’s wonderful album, Love Over Fear. Ah well, better late than never, right?

Pendragon is a British prog band whose illustrious history stretches all the way back to 1978, when punk was all the rage, and prog was definitely not in vogue. Yet, despite wild swings in musical fashion, Pendragon has remained true to their vision, and they are all the more respected for it.

Nick Barrett (guitars, vocal, keyboards) is the one constant through the decades, and he writes all the songs on Love Over Fear. He is assisted by long-time bandmates Clive Nolan (keyboards) and Peter Gee (bass), as well as Jan Vincent Velazco (drums and percussion). A review copy of the album was in my DropBox, and I decided to give it a listen.

After five straight repeat listens, I ordered a hard copy. You won’t find them on Spotify, so if you want to hear this exceptionally fine album, support the band and order a copy for yourself at pendragon.mu.

What sets Love Over Fear apart from the embarrassment of riches that 2019 blessed prog fans with? First, the music. The first track, Everything, bursts forth from your speakers with all the exuberance of a Riding The Scree.  Starfish and the Moon is a pensive piano-based ballad featuring a timeless melody and an airy guitar solo. Truth And Lies is a slow building, majestic song whose overdubbed acoustic guitars lulls the listener into a sense of languor until a wicked electric guitar solo takes over. 360 Degrees is the poppiest of the lot, with a hook (played on violin by Zoe Devenish) that lodges itself in your brain and won’t leave. If it had been released in 1982 (the year of C’mon Eileen), it would be a massive international hit single. Eternal Light is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. It sends the listener up to the heights of heaven.  Who Really Are We? is a viciously rocking track with a Kashmir-worthy guitar riff that crushes everything in its path. Heck, I could go on in a similar vein for every song on Love Over Fear. Every single track is exceptionally fine – I had a hard time getting through the album, because I kept hitting repeat.

Second, the words. After I had the actual CD in my hands, and I was able to peruse Barrett’s lyrics, I was blown away with his courage and vision. Love Over Fear is a cri de coeur against the current “cancel culture” that is having a reign of terror on social media, and a plea to learn from the wisdom previous generations accumulated through hard experience and suffering. Take these lines from Everything:

The spectrum is a lie
Love is the new hate
Hate is the new love
We’ve all been roundly deceived
And swallowed all the bait

Or how about these from Truth and Lies:

Farewell my trusted friends
These books they burn transcend
The hunger we have for the knowledge
For wisdom and the wise
Deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole
Deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole
The lie told often enough as sooth becomes the truth

And these from the centerpiece, Eternal Light:

Turn off that TV set and read a book instead
Read about the world and the universe
Don’t fill your snowflake head
With how beautiful I am

And, finally, from Who Really Are We?, a warning of the soft totalitarianism taking over the West:

The books of Solzhenitsyn
The wisdom of kings
Censored plays and words
And all that can bring
It seeks to divide us
While pretending to unite us
And neither they repented of their murders

And I see their gulag faces
Frozen to the floor
Love’s become the new hate’s become the new love
And therein lies the biggest deception of all
You can’t fight it
It’s the law

Nick Barrett is a 21st century prophet – proclaiming uncomfortable truths about our current culture. He is begging us to return to those thinkers who built civilization, and turn away from those who seek to tear it down. It doesn’t hurt that his jeremiad is wrapped in such  appealing musical accompaniment. Love Over Fear isn’t one of the best albums of 2019; it is one of the best of the last decade. May love triumph over fear.

A Little Hope From Mr. Morse

Neal Morse is giving away a collection of songs called Hope And A Future.

Here’s his letter explaining his motivation:

From Neal Morse:

“As we all crowd around our televisions and read our news feeds concerning the ever-changing nature of the coronavirus, I am sensing a wave of hopelessness, fear and uncertainty unlike anything I can remember.

“Many times there have been extreme difficulties in regions or nations, but this is a trial for all humanity…and, as in any time of testing, many will fall into the depths of hopelessness. When hope disappears, all seems lost.

“But it’s not.

“So I have been thinking…what can I do? How can I help? I shared that feeling with the Radiant team and we came up with this idea: a free collection of Neal Morse songs titled “Hope and a Future”.

“I’ve tried to interject elements of hope in my music for as far back as I can remember, so we have made a special album of songs from my entire catalogue, accenting the uplifting and affirming, to help you navigate these unchartered waters with peace and blessed assurance.

“Effective immediately, you can download this collection of songs free of charge from the Radiant website by clicking the button below.

“My deepest desire is that you will find something in these songs — a word, a phrase, a concept — that you can latch onto and will help you and your family through this season.

“Your download will also contain a document that we put together containing some great quotes regarding hope.

“In closing, let me encourage you with this. No matter the circumstances or how things appear, let “the love that never dies” fill your heart today and be the “wind at your back” that brings you to a “peaceful harbor” in the days ahead.”

With much love,

Neal

You can download the album (which comes with a very nice PDF booklet) here.

The Neal Morse Band – Live In Brno 2019

The Neal Morse Band has just released its document of last year’s Great Adventour, the tour in support of their The Great Adventure album. As usual, it is a generous package consisting of 2 CDs and 2 Blu-ray discs.

The Great Adventure is, in my opinion, the NMB’s best album so far, so I was eager to see the show they put on to showcase it. Live In Brno does not disappoint. They play the entire 2-CD album, and close with a spectacular Great Medley.

The show in Brno took place April 7, 2019, midway through their European tour, which followed a North American tour. There are signs of wear and tear on Neal’s voice, but he more than makes up for it with passion and emotion. It is interesting that as the NMB evolves, Neal has become somewhat less of a focal point in their live show, giving up many lead vocal spots to the incredibly talented Eric Gillette, as well as Bill Hubauer. That is fine with me, since Gillette has one of the finest voices in rock today. That said, this is definitely Neal’s production, as evidenced by his energetic moving about the stage, and his creative costume changes throughout the set. At various times he appears as a hooded mystery man, a ragged wanderer, a mad hatter, and other personae.

I’ve rarely seen a group of individuals lock together and perform as one coordinated unit the way Neal (keyboards, guitars, vocals), Randy George (bass), Bill Hubauer (keyboards, vocals), Eric Gillette (guitar, vocals), and the mighty Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals) do during this show. It really is amazing how tight and powerful they are on every single song.

And that is what makes The Great Adventure such an excellent album – the variety and high quality of every song. There is prog, metal, power pop, and balladry contained in this set, and the band successfully tackles these various styles with ease. The highlights are To The River, Hey Ho Let’s Go, Vanity Fair, The Great Despair, and A Love That Never Dies.

A Love That Never Dies is the final song, and as the audience joins with the band to sing the chorus it is a truly ecstatic moment. It’s no wonder Morse is visibly overcome with emotion.

The encore is a 25-minute medley of selections from every one of Neal’s albums beginning with Testimony and continuing through Similitude Of A Dream. What is clear is how consistently excellent Neal’s output has been since he began his solo career. He really hasn’t had a single clunker in his entire discography.

The Blu-ray video of the show is well-shot with lots of different perspectives of the stage. My only quibble is that the mix is a 2.0 stereo one. If an artist goes to the trouble of releasing something on Blu-ray, he should mix it to 5.1 channels.

The second Blu-ray has two almost hour-length videos documenting the North American and European tours with lots of behind-the-scenes footage. Interesting and fun, but not essential. It also includes the official music videos for I Got To Run, The Great Adventure, Welcome To The World, and The Great Despair.

Neal has released visual documents of practically every tour he has done, and The Great Adventour – Live In Brno 2019 is one of the best. Highly recommended for both the devoted fan and the curious.