The Neal Morse Band: Morsefest

God-progger supreme’s five-hour revisiting of two classic albums.

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In the likely event that you didn’t make it over to Nashville to see Neal Morse and friends perform his solo albums Testimony and One in their entirety last November, this five-hour DVD/CD package should fill you in handsomely on what you missed.

The setting is Morse’s local church, and from the start of this recording, there’s already a touch of the preacher-cum-sales-conference MC about the smartly suit-jacketed figure of Morse. But this is a much cosier event than that suggests. There’s a vibe of friendly celebration from the very first bars, as Morse opens proceedings strumming an acoustic and wandering through the audience during Back To The Beginning. As the tempo builds, the impact of these songs is strengthened by perennial fellow traveller Mike Portnoy’s muscular percussion, Eric Gillette’s intoxicating solos and Morse’s own dexterous keyboard and guitar work. But the parts of the two albums that seem most enhanced in this setting are the most nakedly autobiographical cuts, from California Nights to The Promise, and when he tells the oft-repeated but always astounding tale of his daughter’s seemingly miraculous recovery from illness, on the encore reading of Jayda from Testimony 2, even the most cynical of Christian rock-phobes will remain unmoved. And while the hands-stretched-to-heaven anthemics of some of these songs might be less engaging to fans of Morse’s edgier material, prog die-hards are rewarded in the end with night two’s Alan Morse-assisted encore romp through Spock’s Beard favourites Wind At My Back and The Light, before a euphoric rendition of Transatlantic’s Stranger In Your Soul brings the curtain down in some style. And you can also try the DVD extras, including Morse’s fanclub acoustic set. Warning: beginners need not apply…

Johnny Sharp

Johnny is a regular contributor to Prog and Classic Rock magazines, both online and in print. Johnny is a highly experienced and versatile music writer whose tastes range from prog and hard rock to R’n’B, funk, folk and blues. He has written about music professionally for 30 years, surviving the Britpop wars at the NME in the 90s (under the hard-to-shake teenage nickname Johnny Cigarettes) before branching out to newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent and magazines such as Uncut, Record Collector and, of course, Prog and Classic Rock