Album review: NEAL MORSE – Sola Gratia

NEAL MORSE - Sola Gratia

Inside Out [Release date 11.09.20]

Neal Morse hardly seems to be out of the studio, with a covers collection released in the summer under the Morse Portnoy George handle, and last year he released the ambitious double album ‘Jesus Christ: The Exorcist’. ‘Sola Gratia’ again takes a religious subject, dealing with the apostle Paul.

Specifically his transformation from being a persecutor of early Christians to experiencing his own vision of the ascended Jesus and his subsequent conversion. Some are put off by Neal Morse’s relgious lyrics, however I would say enjoy the music and story told through the songs. It is never preachy and with Morse’s uncanny knack for melodies always easy on the ears.

The music was recorded ‘virtually’ in April 2020 at the height of the Coronavirus lockdown, the first time Neal Morse has recorded a whole album remotely. It is credited as Neal Morse solo album, rather than being credited to The Neal Morse Band, as although band members Eric Gillette and Bill Hubauer appear, neither of them wrote or sang on the album. Long term musical companions Mike Portnoy (drums) and Randy George (bass) were also involved.

After a brief ‘Preface’, ‘Overture’ gets things moving along, a suitably grandiose instrumental piece that leads into the first show tune of the album, ‘In The Name Of The Lord’. I mean that with the greatest respect though as much of this album has the feel that it could easily be staged as a musical production. None more so than ‘Building A Wall’, a heavy beast of a tune with a chorus made for audience participation. A show stopper of a tune.

Nice little instrumentals pop up throughout the course of the album, with ‘Sola Intermezzo’ a chance for Neal Morse to show his keyboards skills, trading off against precise guitar solos.

‘Seemingly Sincere’ will please prog fans after an epic piece of music. Plenty going on both musically and lyrically on this one. ‘Now I Can See/The Great Commission’ rounds the album off in epic style. Again plenty of bombast, then quieter passages giving the song a theatrical feel.

Not quite up there with his previous works, however, still an enjoyable and interesting listen, in that it has the casual listener look further into the life story of Paul the Apostle. ***1/2

Review by Jason Ritchie

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