Just when you think you have Neal Morse figured out, he throws another curve ball. His latest project is “a progressive rock musical”, and it is unlike anything else he has produced.
First, Neal himself is not a prominent voice here. He only sings the part of Pilate, along with very minor contributions as a demon and a disciple. Second, this really is a musical, where one song flows seamlessly into another. To fully appreciate it, the listener needs to set aside the time to listen to it in one setting. Third, stylistically this is the most diverse set of songs Neal has written. In his own words, “There are touching ballads, rousing ensemble pieces, classical elements, and dramatic Broadway musical type songs, as well.”
The role of Jesus is performed by Ted Leonard, and he is perfect for it – authoritative one minute, combative the next, and achingly tender in other settings. It’s one of Leonard’s finest performances. Another standout performer is Nick D’Virgilio as Judas, where he manages to convey his initial excitement at Jesus’ early miracles, and then his confusion and disillusionment when he realizes his rabbi isn’t going to overthrow the Roman oppression of Israel. His anguish in “Dark Is The Night” is palpable as he sings,
Jesus there must be some other way
Of conquering the enemy
How can you help us
If you are dead and gone?
Speaking of Jesus, Morse’s version is definitely not the same as the Jesus Christ Superstar from the early ’70s. Where Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus was the happy, hip leader of a group of countercultural provocateurs, Morse’s is a man of action. As I listened to Jesus Christ The Exorcist, the Gospel of Mark came to mind: to the point, not a lot of parables or theological discussions, but many examples of active ministry. Morse’s Jesus is the one in the title: an exorcist waging spiritual battle against the devil and his demons. In many ways, it’s a refreshing portrait. Morse strips the story of Jesus down to the bare essentials – his baptism, temptation, casting out seven demons from Mary, saving the madman of the Gadarenes, the Last Supper, his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. If someone who had no idea who Jesus Christ was listened to this album, he or she would have a pretty good understanding afterwards.
What about the music? Neal still has the gift of beautiful melody, and “Love Has Called My Name” is one of the catchiest songs he’s ever composed. There are some fairly heavy tracks (“Get Behind Me Satan”, for example), some singer/songwriter songs (the aforementioned “Dark Is The Night”), some blues (“The Woman of Seven Devils”), and some very nice prog (“Jesus’ Temptation”). “There’s A Highway” sounds like it could be blasting out of a late-70s FM rock radio station.
The vocal performances are uniformly excellent, especially Talon David as Mary Magdalene. Neal wrote and produced the entire piece, as well as playing guitar, keyboards, bass, and percussion. Eric Gillette from the Neal Morse Band plays drums (!), and long-time collaborator Randy George is on bass. Paul Bielatowicz plays lead guitar. There’s also a string orchestra, horns, male chorus, female chorus, and a kitchen sink (just kidding!).
If you’re a fan of Neal, you probably already have this. If his occasional flights of prog excess have made you wary of his music, give this a try – it covers more familiar musical territory. Even if you are not a Christian, give it a listen. It’s actually not as “preachy” as Morse’s earlier Testimony albums, and his gift for composing a memorable melody really shines here, making Jesus Christ The Exorcist one of the most enjoyable musical experiences of 2019.
As some of you might now, I’m in the middle of completing a book manuscript on the history of the Inklings for ISI Books. Here’s my partial list of critical moments in the creation of Tolkien’s larger mythology, from its earliest hints to the publication of The Hobbit.
“Bidding of the Minstrel” (poem) Winter 1914
“Tinfang Warble” (Poem) 1914
On Francis Thompson (paper) 1914
“Earendil” (poem) September 1914
“Kalevala; or Land of Heroes” (paper) November 22, 1914
“The Story of Kullervo,” (story) late 1914
“Qenya Lexicon” (dictionary) 1915
On the Kalevala (paper) February 1915
“Man in the Moon” (poem) March 1915
“Sea Chant of an Elder Day” (poem) March 1915
“Cottage of Lost Play” (Poem) April 27-28, 1915
“Shores of Faery” (poem) July 1915
“The Happy Mariners” (poem) July 1915
“A Song of Aryador” (poem) September 12, 1915
“Kortirion Among the Trees” (Poem) November 21-28, 1915
“Over Old Hills and Far Away” (Poem) December 1915-February 1916
“Habbanan Beneath the Stars” (Poem) December 1915 or June 1916
Prelude, Inward, Sorrowful (poems) March 16-18, 1916
“The Fall of Gondolin” (story) 1916-1917
“Tale of Tinuviel” (story) 1917
“Cottage of Lost Play” (story) February 12, 1917
The Music of the Ainur (story) Between November 1918 and Spring 1920
“Turin Turambar & the Dragon” (story) 1919
“The Fall of Gondolin” (story aloud) Spring 1920
“Lay of the Children of H” (poem) 1920-1925
“The City of the Gods” (poem) 1923
Question if Beren a man or elf 1925-1926
“Lay of Leithian (poem) 1925-September 1931
“The Silmarillion” (story) 1926
“Silmarillion/Sketch” (story) 1926
“Intro to Elder Edda” (paper) November 17, 1926
“Mythopoeia” (poem) September 1931-November 1935
The Hobbit (novel) Late 1928-1936
“The Quenta” (story) 1930
“Earliest Annals of Valinor” 1930
“Annals of Beleriand” 1930
Second version of Silmarillion 1930-1937
“New Lay of Volunga” (poem) early 1930s
“New Lay of Gudrún” (poem) early 1930s
“A Secret Vice” (paper) 1931
“Fall of Arthur” (poem) 1931-1934
“Beowulf: Monsters and Critics” (paper) November 25, 1936
“The Lost Road” (story) 1936-37
“The Fall of Númenor” (story) 1936-37
Draft of Silmarillion to Allen/Unwin November 1937
“On Fairy Stories” (paper) March 8, 1939
 CJRT, HOME 2, 269.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 107.
Garth, Tolkien at Exeter, 30.
 CJRT, HOME 2, 267; Garth has it on November 27, 1914; see Garth, Tolkien at Exeter, 41.
 Flieger, ed., The Story of Kullervo, 63, 91.
 Parma Eldalamberon 12 (1998).
 Garth, Tolkien at Exeter, 42.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 202.
 Garth, Tolkien at Exeter, 42.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 27.
 CJRT, HOME 2, 271.
 CJRT, HOME 2, 273.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 25.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 108.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 91.
 CJRT, HOME 2, 295.
 CJRT, HOME 2, 146; and CJRT, The Children of Húrin, 9.
 CJRT, HOME 2, 3.
 Edith writes out story for JRRT, HOME 1, 13.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 45
 CJRT, The Children of Húrin, 9.
 To the Exeter College Essay Club, in CJRT, HOME 2, 199.
 CJRT, HOME 3, 1.
 CJRT, HOME 1, 136
 CJRT, HOME 2, 52.
 CJRT, HOME 3, 1.
 CJRT, HOME 2, 300.
 CJRT, HOME 4, 11.
 CJRT, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, 16.
 CJRT, Tree and Leaf, 7.
 “The Hobbit,” in Scull and Hammond, JRRT Companion and Guide, Reader’s Guide 1, 509-522.
 CJRT, HOME 4, 76.
 CJRT, HOME 4, 1.
 CJRT, HOME 4, 1.
 CJRT, HOME 5, 107.
 CJRT, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, 5.
 CJRT, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, 5.
 Given for Johnson Society, Pembroke College. See Fimi and Higgins, eds, A Secret Vice, xii.
 CJRT, Fall of Arthur, 10-11.
 CJRT, The Monsters and the Critics, 1; and Drout, ed., Beowulf and the Critics.
 CJRT, HOME 5, 8-9.
 CJRT, HOME 5, 7-9.
 CJRT, HOME 5, 107
 CJRT, The Monsters and the Critics, 3.
If there’s a rock band more criminally ignored than IZZ, I have yet to encounter it. To give you an idea of the sheer sonic glory of their new album, imagine the perfect follow-up to both GOING FOR THE ONE and DRAMA, and you’d come very close to discovering the glory of DON’T PANIC. And, throw some classier King Crimson and ELP in as well.
Admittedly, I’ve been a fan of IZZ for years now, but this album even took me by surprise. I knew it would be more than solid when it arrived on my doorstep, but I had no idea just how much of a ride I was going to get.
I could follow those bass lines to Neptune and back.
One of the single best aspects of the album is simply that the band clearly loves making music—music as a thing in and of itself as well as music as a communal activity. There’s joy perfectly meshed with seriousness on this album, and the band never shies away from proclaiming its love of . . . well, love. Few albums more distastefully destroy cynicism than DON’T PANIC. Even the very title is calming in a hyperkinetic, uplifting way!
Squire-esque bass lines, unusual but harmonic rhythms, and complex vocals really define the album, musically. Yet, it all works; it’s all gorgeous.
Don’t let the Yes comparison above throw you off. There’s no doubt that the members of IZZ love Yes and probably learned much of their craft form the English-prog rock gods. But, IZZ takes the Yes vibe into a whole new realm, especially in the interplay of male-female vocals.
I really didn’t think the band could top their previous trilogy (which inspired me to say my rosary more often than not—no joke) and John Galgano’s solo album, REAL LIFE IS MEETING, but DON’T PANIC is the more than worthy successor to all of the previous efforts. Now, I have to convince myself to be content with this one for a while, because, frankly, I’m already eager for the next one.
Patience, Bradley, patience.
If all of this sounds too intelligent and too good to be a part of popular culture, it’s because it is! No, no, no. This is not pop. This is art. True, good, real, and beautiful. Imagine, for a moment, how many other manifestations of secular culture take seriously a Christian saint, let alone analyze the very stones used in the art of Byzantium? Truly, what this band offers us is a precious gem. And, while the members of the band (at least as far as I know) are not religious, they certainly take the religion of the past quite seriously. Not just Theodora, but the band has also written gorgeously on its previous releases about St. Edith, the granddaughter of King Alfred, the first great English king, the first to codify Anglo-Saxon common law, and the blessed recipient of Marian visions.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/05/big-big-train-grand-tour-bradley-birzer.html
Part II of our symposium. A second indepth look at the philosophy and emotions behind Big Big Train’s latest album, GRAND TOUR.
Beginning with genteel blushings and awed whispers, David Longdon’s vocals—so plaintive and so earnest and so full of wonder—begin Grand Tour by sharing hard-earned wisdom.
After all, this story begins far from home, and the craft in question flies along shadowed paths beyond all human sight, but never beyond human imagination. By whatever measure of success or failure, the craft made the attempt. And, by necessity, so did those who launched it in the first place.
Whatever the fate of that craft, it was made by human hands, and those hands should be celebrated. And, thus we should celebrate not just the act of creation but the very life that gave the very intelligence to act.
We are, after all, ALIVE!
And thus begins Big Big Train’s latest album, Grand Tour, a masterpiece even among masterpieces. Ostensibly, this hook—which catches onto the eighteenth-century ideal of English travel throughout the European continent and, especially, into and around the Mediterranean and Aegean—ties the latest album together. By employing such a story, the band can travel not only across space but also back through time. The album explores ideas and as well as biographies.
This is, simply put, an album for the intelligent and meaningful person.
With track three, “The Florentine,” the band looks at the very core of the Italian Renaissance and one of its four greatest figures, Leonardo.
On track four, “Roman Stone,” the band digs deep back into western civilization, finding the very stones that created the Roman Republic and the various Mediterranean powers of the ancient world. There is both regret at the loss and admiration at the gain. See what we once were, the band claims. See what we could’ve been, the band asks. After all, things that have broken have often been made whole again. Sometimes even with the very material that had fallen into ruin becomes the cornerstone.
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Given that this site’s patron is also the patron saint of music, it seems meet and just to review our favorite music. Thus, I give you the awesome Tad Wert’s first entry into the symposium, “What Hath the Train Wrought,” a deep look at Big Big Train’s GRAND TOUR.–Brad, editor
“GRAND TOUR” by Tad Wert
There are and can exist but two ways of investigating and discovering truth. The one hurries on rapidly from the senses and particulars to the most general axioms, and from them, as principles and their supposed indisputable truth, derives and discovers the intermediate axioms. This is the way now in use. The other constructs its axioms from the senses and particulars, by ascending continually and gradually, till it finally arrives at the most general axioms, which is the true but unattempted way.
–Francis Bacon, Novum Organum
Never let it be said that Big Big Train doesn’t think big. Their latest opus, Grand Tour, is a massive undertaking, taking the listener on a voyage from the cliffs of Dover to Italy, Constantinople, and out to interstellar space. Along the way, we pay our respects to Leonardo da Vinci, Saints Theodora and Justinian, exiled Prospero and Ariel, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Oh, and we mustn’t forget to say hello to Francis Bacon, the first “modern” thinker.
If this project were attempted by any other artist, they would be ridiculed for their pretentiousness. To BBT’s credit, they have done their research, and every song on this amazing album is filled with respect, appreciation, and love for their subjects. In the 18th and 19th centuries, every well-educated European took a “Grand Tour”, which included visits to famous cultural and religious sites, such as Rome, Florence, Paris, etc. Thanks to BBT, we can embark upon our own grand tour via their artistry.
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