Neal Morse makes bold return to prog rock with second release of 2012

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Neal Morse returns once again to mainstream progressive rock with the September 11 release Momentum, to be followed by a North American tour.

The former Spock’s Beard frontman, who left to focus on faith music a decade ago, is coming off the critically acclaimed Testimony 2 in 2011 — but more recently completed an album of cover tunes across a wide spectrum of early influences. As with that release, Momentum features drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Randy George, both longtime collaborators.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Neal Morse discusses his emotional return to the themes of ‘Testimony,’ working with Spock’s Beard again, and his on-going love affair with the Beatles.]

Recording over a brisk two-week period in January 2012 between other projects, the trio eventually expanded to include guest appearances by guitarist Paul Gilbert, as well as Adson Sodré, Bill Hubauer and Eric Gillette — three musicians who became members of Morse’s new touring band through a YouTube audition.

Momentum features five stand-alone songs and one longer, conceptual piece. The Gentle Giant-inspired “Thoughts Part 5” follows in the footsteps of the previous “Thoughts” tracks penned by Morse with Spock’s Beard. “Smoke and Mirrors” trods an introspective, acoustic path, while “Weathering Sky” offers a raucous cry for deliverance and renewal from a searching soul. Rounding out the shorter tracks is “Freak,” an upbeat, strings-charged song unlike anything Neal has recorded to date. Last comes “World Without End,” a near 34-minute, six-part epic, something sure to thrill prog fans.

The tour in support of Momentum will include stops in Nashville, Jacksonville, New York, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle and Mexico City.

Here’s a complete track listing for ‘Momentum’ …

Momentum (6:25)
Thoughts Part 5 (7:51)
Smoke and Mirrors (4:38)
Weathering Sky (4:15)
Freak (4:29)
World Without End (33:39)
i Introduction
ii Never Pass Away
iii Losing Your Soul
iv The Mystery
v Some Kind of Yesterday
vi World Without End
Total Length: 61:17

All songs written and produced by Neal Morse, except “Thoughts Part 5” (Neal Morse and Randy George); and “Smoke and Mirrors” and “The Mystery” (Music by Neal Morse, Lyrics by Chris Thompson and Neal Morse).

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Neal Morse. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

NEAL MORSE – TESTIMONY 2 (2011): Morse confronted the triumphs and pain of his tenure and ultimate departure in 2002 from Spock’s Beard. In so doing, he ensured that this wasn’t simply an epic sequel to his initial solo release; in many ways, its grace and striking honesty make Testimony 2 the better record. As it unfolded, the album became a moving meditation on acceptance, on managing change, on embracing the past even as you move on. And Morse did it without sacrificing anything musically: For all of its underlying messages on faith — a conversion to Christianity precipitated Morse’s decision to go solo — 2 remained firmly rooted in the prog-rock tradition, from soaring keyboards to thrilling calculus-equation guitars to classically inspired compositional excursions.

TRANSATLANTIC – MORE NEVER IS ENOUGH (2011): The modern-day prog supergroup Transatlantic is revealed — through antics both during sound check and on stage (Portnoy stage dives!) — to be complete and utter fans of their chosen throwback format. Over the course of this gala release, they revel in all of progressive rock’s dizzying musical intrigues, but also all its fundamental (and, heck, still sometimes fun) excesses. The band has already done much to update a genre sometimes badly in need of a middle-aged facelift. More Never Is Enough shows they came into this with a deep understanding, and an even deeper appreciation, of its outlandishly imaginative, charmingly eccentric history. And they’re not afraid to celebrate that, too.

SPOCK’S BEARD – TESTIMONY 2: LIVE IN LOS ANGELES (2011): Morse joined his former band for three cuts found on early releases by Spock’s Beard. Midway through the current band’s reading of “The Light,” Morse bounds out on stage — just in time for “Return of the Catfish Man,” which charges forward with a gothic menace. Spock’s Beard then makes a crystalline transition into “The Dream,” the delicately moving closing segment of Morse’s very first prog composition. (I can’t help but hear, as Morse sings about a dream that can “stand up in the light,” the first inklings of his eventual turn toward praise rock.) “June,” meanwhile, is a gorgeous intertwining of vocal harmonies and guitars — perhaps the most approachable and emotionally available song he ever wrote for the band.

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