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4.37 | 12 ratings | 2 reviews
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Album · 2020

Filed under Metal Related


1. Preface (1:28)
2. Overture (5:59)
3. In the Name of the Lord (4:27)
4. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones) (2:43)
5. March of the Pharisees (1:40)
6. Building a Wall (5:01)
7. Sola Intermezzo (2:10)
8. Overflow (6:27)
9. Warmer Than the Sunshine (3:22)
10. Never Change (7:52)
11. Seemingly Sincere (9:34)
12. The Light on the Road to Damascus (3:26)
13. The Glory of the Lord (6:17)
14. Now I Can See / The Great Commission (5:17)

Total Time 65:43


- Neal Morse / Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Drums (#6)

Guest/Session Musicians:

- Randy George / Bass
- Mike Portnoy / Drums, 'Mow' (#6)
- Eric Gillette / Guitars (#2, #3, #13)
- Bill Hubauer / Piano, 'Aha Moment'
- Gideon Klein / Cello, Viola, String Bass
- Josee Weigand / Violin, Viola
- Wil Morse / Backing Vocals
- Debbie Presee / Backing Vocals
- April Zachary / Backing Vocals
- Amy Pippin / Backing Vocals

About this release

Release date: September 11th, 2020
Label: InsideOut
Format: CD, Vinyl, Digital

Thanks to adg211288 for the addition


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Whilst in his early solo career Neal Morse put out a fair few prog albums under his own name, for the last ten years or so he's actually been more sparing on that front. He's kept up the pace of his singer-songwriter releases and his "worship music" series of mainstream Christian faith music, but ever since his surprise return to Transatlantic for The Whirlwind it seems like he actively prefers to make prog in a band context - thus putting out less prog albums as "Neal Morse" and more as part of "The Neal Morse Band". (There was the Jesus Christ the Exorcist album, but that was a full cast prog-gospel rock opera, and so whilst it differed from the Neal Morse Band's approach, it also wasn't very much like Neal's earlier solo prog albums.)

And, in a way, Sola Gratia kind of is a Neal Morse Band album, because the gang is all here (or at least are present virtually - due to this being recorded in the early phases of the first COVID lockdown, all the participants recorded their parts separately and Neal assembled it all together).

At the same time, it's not presented as one, and for good reason. All the Neal Morse Band releases include extensive sharing of the songwriting duties. Sometimes the extent to which is the case has varied - their first album was very much a collaborative effort, since they deliberately went in the studio with nothing prepared, whereas on The Great Adventure, Neal already had demos of the entire thing worked out and the band's contribution largely came down to putting flesh on those bones.

For Sola Gratia, however, Neal composed everything and the band are really here simply to put his vision into effect - so it's credited to him, not the group as a whole. (They would go right back to a very band-oriented, collective approach on Innocence and Danger, which they'd release under the band name.)

It's a sort of thematic sequel to his earlier solo album, Sola Scriptura - in that both albums are based on major theological concepts in Protestant Christianity, and both of them are concept albums based around the stories of major figures in Christian history, Martin Luther in the case of Sola Scriptura and Saint Paul on this album.

What you get here, then, might not be all that surprising; designating this a "Neal Morse" album was apt. If you've taken in his solo prog work from Testimony to Momentum, you'll recognise a lot of the schticks and techniques he works in here - but he's also picked up a few new tricks up his sleeve. This might be the benefit of working more in a band context - not only does this help Neal pick up new ideas better than him doing all the songwriting work himself, but it also means that when it comes time to put together a solo album the "old way" he could come back to it with fresh eyes, making this one of the stronger releases in his discography under his own name.
Sola Gratia (2020) is a progressive rock solo release by US musician Neal Morse. Believe it or not this album marks Morse's first normal progressive rock based solo album since Momentum (2012), as all progressive releases between the two have been either with The Neal Morse Band entity, which uses a different song-writing approach to a Neal Morse solo album, or was the rock opera Jesus Christ the Exorcist (2019), which I can't really consider a normal Neal Morse solo album by its very nature which also saw him giving the lead vocal role to someone other than himself. Of course though Morse has used his regular collaborators, the entirety of The Neal Morse Band, as his supporting musicians on Sola Gratia – Mike Portnoy on drums (except for the song Building a Wall where Morse plays them himself), Randy George on bass, Bill Hubauer on piano and Eric Gillette on guest guitar.

Sola Gratia no doubt immediately brings to mind Morse's earlier album Sola Scriptura (2007) with its title and that relationship is further brought into evidence throughout the release with many throwbacks to both that album's music and lyrics, effectively making this a companion album. As anyone who is familiar with Neal's music knows, he is a Christian artist and this concept album explores the story of Paul the Apostle. Compared to some of his work Sola Gratia does come across as being somewhat more overt on the Jesus theme, but as a concept album it doesn't come over as excessively preachy for the sake of being preachy, which can be off-putting to all but the most devote of listeners. And as always the music is fantastic, though more of a slow burn next to albums like Sola Scriptura, One (2004), or The Neal Morse Band's The Similitude of a Dream (2016), which is the main thing.

Speaking of the instrumental work, Sola Gratia is both somewhat familiar territory for Morse, but it also has a fresh feel to it. Despite the relationship and throwbacks this isn't really Sola Scriptura 2.0, as that album was one of the most metal influenced albums that Neal Morse has made, along with The Neal Morse Band's The Great Adventure (2019). This album I would say has some metal on it, and is certainly one of the heavier (though varied) Neal Morse solo albums, but some of that heaviness seems like Morse was as much influenced by classic hard rock as heavy metal. I would say he also relies far less on symphonic prog ideas that he has sometimes in the past and with other ventures like Transatlantic. The result is a rather varied album.

I said earlier than Sola Gratis was more of a slow burn than some Neal Morse work and that's been true for me ever since the first single In the Name of the Lord was released. But that track shows off how my perception of the whole album has been: getting better every time I hear it. I do after several listens find it an album that mostly works as one continuous piece and since the songs segue into each other it sounds like that was Morse's intention, though perhaps not to the extent of the 'it's really one long song' albums like ? (2005) or Transatlantic's The Whirlwind (2009). There are a few standouts though and I think Morse choose his singles from this well, since those are the songs I'm going to primarily name here: In the Name of the Lord, a very hard and heavy track, Building a Wall, a rather catchy memorable number (though I do wonder if Morse has been listening to a lot of Another Brick in the Wall when he came up with this one) and finally Seemingly Sincere. Seemingly Sincere, the album's longest track at 9:34 and the closest that Morse has come to an individual lengthy epic since The Neal Morse Band's debut album The Grand Experiment (2015), is basically a masterpiece unto itself.

With Sola Gratia Neal Morse has proven once again why he is one of the greatest musicians in progressive music today. I would go so far as to say that due to its varied sound and ideas the album is the strongest solo album he's made for over a decade, also right up there with the trio of excellent The Neal Morse Band releases. A strong start to a new decade for Neal Morse.

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