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The Neal Morse Band - The Grand Experiment (2015)

Radiant Records – February 10, 2015

Review by Edwin van Hoof



Neal Morse is the busiest bee in the progressive rock hyve. Aside the release of his solo album "Songs from November," Neal also was one of the driving forces behind Transatlantic's "Kaleidoscope" and the recent Flying Colors album "Second Nature." In the midst of recording these jewels, Mr. Morse manages to tour frequently with the above mentioned as well as lend his hand to many other acts in the genre. The Neal Morse Band is the newest loot to his exponential growing catalogue.

What instantly comes to mind is the reminiscence of the material that is strongly rooted in the sound of American pomp and prog classics from the late 70's and early 80's. "Following the Call" (10:12) brings together the very best from this era and it is almost as if Styx and Kansas joined forces to record this wonderful track. The song is progressive as it is recognizable with an ear mingling theme and melody forming the red line amongst which the musical extravaganza takes place. Upholding the timing like a Swiss clock is none other than Winery Dog Mike Portnoy, who lays down his typical drum fills and maintains the energy needed to make the music flourish.

Another focal point is the squealing guitar lick and solo that Eric Gillette unleashes midway through. While the pompous wall of power (Bill Hubauer – keys) rises high, the man's high pitched solo is astonishing and colourful, contrasting extremely which makes it very enjoyable. Amongst the pompous ‘violence' it's Morse who stands out with his wonderful warm voice that links to both mentioned band. The title track of the album is a more compact pomp track combining the best of Styx' sound with that of UK based prog bands such as Yes and Asia, especially due to the echoing voices in the middle section of the song.

One of the most wonderful tunes in progressive rock must be the timid and warm "Waterfall" which highlights the excellent vocal interaction on this album perfectly. Morse' wonderful voice combines perfectly with that of the other band members, much like CSNY in their prime. Even though the song clocks 6:31 it is never gets boring for one second, which is impressive. "Agenda" is a forward rocking track with psychedelic Beatlesque vocals and distorted guitars. A compact tune that paves the way for the epical giant "Alive Again" that opens with a Pink Floyd-ish guitar and keyboard interaction before opening all registers. For 26+ minutes it enrols a bedazzling musical outburst of passion and perfection. The melodies are electrifying and powerful, with keyboards filling in the blanks and Portnoy battering his drums over the fiery riffs. It is all perfectly timed drama before sonically falling apart when the vocals tell the story in a colourful setting of throbbing bass and string arrangements. The close harmony choruses are sublime especially around minute 17 after the eclectic mid section, when the dramatic turns of events is vocally shaped by Morse with a lingering epos about life's endeavors and high price. The song works towards a grand finale with an ear mingling guitar melody from Gillette.

"The Grand Experiment" is an excellent melodic prog album that brings together US bombastic classics with more traditional elements from the UK progressive rock age, uniting it with the utmost perfection. Guitars and keyboards are colourfully lit by a razor-sharp production and Portnoy's polyrhythmic perfection makes the songs sturdy and vivid. It is however Neal Morse himself that breaks free from the chains that bind him to his past in Spock's Beard, for once and for all.

89 out of 100

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