NEAL MORSE — Sola Gratia (review)

NEAL MORSE — Sola Gratia album cover Album · 2020 · Metal Related Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
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.
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