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4.15 | 13 ratings | 1 review
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Album · 2003

Filed under Non-Metal


Disc 1
1. Part 1: The Land of Beginning Again (3:10)
2. Part 1: Overture No. 1 (5:57)
3. Part 1: California Nights (5:46)
4. Part 1: Colder in the Sun (6:20)
5. Part 1: Sleeping Jesus (5:32)
6. Part 1: Interlude (1:56)
7. Part 1: The Prince of the Power of the Air (2:43)
8. Part 1: The Promise (2:52)
9. Part 1: Wasted Life (6:49)
10. Part 2: Overture No. 2 (2:30)
11. Part 2: Break of Day (6:55)
12. Part 2: Power in the Air (5:03)
13. Part 2: Somber Days (5:06)
14. Part 2: Long Story (5:35)
15. Part 2: It's All I Can Do (6:24)

Total Time: 72:45

Disc 2
1. Part 3: Transformation (3:00)
2. Part 3: Ready to Try (4:16)
3. Part 3: Sing It High (4:47)
4. Part 4: Moving in My Heart (3:06)
5. Part 4: I Am Willing (6:28)
6. Part 4: In the Middle (2:26)
7. Part 4: The Storm Before the Calm (7:31)
8. Part 4: Oh, to Feel Him (6:16)
9. Part 4: God's Theme (2:31)
10. Part 5: Overture No. 3 (1:05)
11. Part 5: Rejoice (2:28)
12. Part 5: Oh Lord My God (3:53)
13. Part 5: God's Theme 2 (2:09)
14. Part 5: The Land of Beginning Again (0:54)

Total Time: 50:57

Bonus disc
1. The Fang ... Sings! (0:18)
2. Tuesday Afternoon / Find My Way Back Home (13:21)

Total Time: 13:39


Neal Morse - producer, composer, guitars, synth, piano, organ, vocals
Mike Portnoy - drums
Kerry Livgren - guitar solo on "Long Story"
Eric Brenton - violin, flute
Chris Carmichael - violin, cello, strings
David Henry - cello
Jim Hoke - sax
Neil Rosengarden - trumpet
Katie Hagen - French horn
Mark Leginer - sax
Byron House - string bass
Glenn Caruba - percussion
Johnny Cox - pedal steel guitar
Jerry Guidrox - guitar
Pamela Ward, Aaron Marshall, Rick Altizer, Terry White, Gene Miller - backing vocals

About this release

InsideOut Music 2003

Thanks to andyman1125 for the updates


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It's kind of apt that Neal Morse's first solo album after leaving Spock's Beard is topped and tailed with the bookending pieces "The Land of Beginning Again", because this was basically Neal starting a whole new phase of not just his music career, but his entire way of doing things.

Although he'd previously put out a couple of solo albums and made a bunch of demo recordings (much of which have been released via his fanclub over the years), it was really with Spock's Beard that he'd made his big splash - but he'd dramatically stepped away from the band which had won him recognition in the first place, and was shifting overtly into the world of Christian music.

It takes only one look at Neal's discography to see that here's a guy who just loves making music - you might take him away from a project or two, but his creativity seems to be near-unstoppable. One thing I have to give him of respect for is his willingness to try his hand at a range of different styles - glance over his discography and you'll find his prog albums, his pop-rock albums, his Beatles tribute project (Yellow Matter Custard), and a pretty extensive selection of full-on gospel and worship music.

From the title of Testimony you might think it was his first collection of straight-ahead worship music. It's not - instead, it's his first solo prog album, a piece of autobiography exploring his personal journey, his reasons for exiting Spock's Beard, and the new role of religion in his life. Obviously, in thematic terms there's going to be a certain level of crossover with his devotional tunes - Christianity had become a big deal for him, part of the point of leaving Spock's Beard was that he wanted to concentrate on material with Christian themes and didn't think it would be fair to expect the whole band to pivot in the same direction, and there's a long-standing tradition in Christianity of people sharing their personal stories of their spiritual journeys.

I'll put my cards on the table and say that I find most "Christian" music that is explicitly marketed to a Christian audience to be somewhat vapid - largely devoted to endlessly reiterating a very limited set of themes which largely won't appeal to you unless you are either already an adherent or already fairly close to being converted. That isn't to say there isn't lots of music with Christian themes which is highly enjoyable - but I think most people would admit that there's a chunk of artists in the Christian music field who are able to make a living off music which just wouldn't hack it to a broader market, simply because they're skilled at "preaching to the converted" and marketing their material to an audience that largely wants to buy into things specifically because they are Christian.

That was certainly the biggest barrier to me previously exploring Neal's solo work, and I'm not to proud to admit I was wrong to do so. This isn't Neal doing some cheap knock-off Spock's Beard stuff for the sake of pandering to his new co-religionists - in terms of the musical backing, this is very much him picking up back where the Neal Morse era of Spock's Beard left off. In retrospect, that should be unsurprising, since for the run from The Light to Snow he'd been their main songwriter, but it's tremendously reassuring to find that a new perspective on life hasn't prompted Neal to dilute his prog instincts or abandon his old approach.

Lyrically speaking, sure, it ain't subtle, but I find "Here's my personal story, maybe you've felt the same" to be an interesting enough thematic prospect that I can listen along and enjoy even if I don't feel myself moved to adopt the same worldview Neal had taken on at this time. (Similarly, when addressing the subject of sin Neal comes at it from the angle of "there was something wrong with me and I found that my religious experiences really helped me with that", which is much more palatable than a more condemnatory approach would be.)

As Testimony 2 would go on to reveal, we only got half the story as to why Neal left Spock's Beard at this point in time: as well as his own religious shift, the Morse family were also dealing with Neal's daughter Jayda being diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition, only for it to apparently resolve itself without the surgery which would have otherwise been required. One can see how this would redouble your religious convictions if you believed that prayer had been helpful - but you can also see why Neal would want to back away from the life of a touring musician and work more from home in the wake of that, just for the sake of being close after such a terrible scare.

This becomes relevant to Testimony when one considers the recording process; Neal had already established a home studio at the Morse house (some of Transatlantic's SMPTe was recorded in it, for instance), which put him in a good position to simply go in there and make music with whoever was willing and able to swing by to contribute. His old Transatlantic bud Mike Portnoy swung by to do drums, Kerry Livgren of Kansas provides a guitar solo on Long Story, and a fair number of guest musicians add their own parts, to the point where Neal has a pocket orchestra backing up his own multi-instrumentalist flair.

It's interesting to compare this to Spock's Beard's Feel Euphoria, their first Neal-less album, which released a few months before this came out: that kept the secular lyrics but shifted the band's musical approach appreciably. By comparison, Testimony finds Neal Morse continuing on the same trajectory he was on with his Spock's Beard work in terms of the music, but making this big shift in his lyrical themes.

With the passage of time, Neal was eventually able to see his way back to working on projects which didn't necessarily have an overtly and directly stated Christian focus - Transatlantic got back together and have now produced more albums than they recorded before the breakup, and he's even guested with Spock's Beard from time to time. But Testimony demonstrates that fans of Neal's work with the Beard needn't have been too worried. I'd even give it the edge over Snow, if it weren't that the ending kind of drags - once Neal's accepted Jesus in I Am Willing then the story is basically over, but the album keeps going for another half hour. (It's still quite good musically, but it does feel like Neal wrote more music than he had story for.)

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