The Neal Morse Band -
The Grand Experiment

(CD 2015, 52:59, InsideOut Music)

The tracks:
  1- Following The Call(10:12)
  2- The Grand Experiment(5:27)
  3- Waterfall(6:31)
  4- Agenda(3:45)
  5- Alive Again(26:44)

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Available as: Standard Jewel Case CD, Special Edition 2 CD + DVD Digipak (incl. bonus disc and Making Of), 180g 1LP vinyl edition + 2 CD (main album and bonus disc)

When I reviewed Songs From November (2014, see review) last year, I commented that Neal Morse was the most prolific prog artist at the moment. As not to let me down, it's only February and here comes another album from him. This time it is as The Neal Morse Band, although two of the musicians has been playing with him for years. Mike Portnoy is ever present behind the drums and Randy George continues to lay down his musical but thumping bass parts. The new guys are Eric Gillette on guitar and Bill Hubauer on keyboards. Neal found these musicians when he did on line auditions a while ago to play in his touring band. And mighty fine musicians they are too.

As with all of Neal's albums these are songs with a message, but one that can be taken on board as a way of life or as a religious experience. There is not as much preaching as there has been in previous albums but Neal still wants you to know that he enjoys his life and knows who to thank for it.

Neal has a tried and tested way of composing his songs and you always know what to expect from him, but this album, whilst retaining that element, has a different feel to it. For starters, it has been mixed and mastered really loud which is a bit of a shame as it feels over compressed and pumping at times and loses some sonic dynamics. But the song writing has changed a little and that could be that the band has become involved in the process and made their own contributions to the arrangements. Usually Neal brings finished songs to the studio to record. This time he came with nothing and started from scratch.

The opening track Following The Call starts with vocal harmonies before bursting into life with great melodies and chorus. It weaves through to a solo bass part and then kicks off again. A great start to the album. The Grand Experiment is a really nice pop /rock song which leads onto a fabulous acoustic number that could have been lifted from a Crosby Stills and Nash album of the 70's. Waterfall is a beautiful song and one of the highlights of the album. The heaviest song follows next. Agenda thumps its way out of your speakers and sets up the final song. All 26 minutes of it. It wouldn't be a Neal Morse album if it didn't have an epic. This one has a great section in the middle where it all quietens down and a string theme sets up some winding vocals and Neal relinquishes vocal duties to the band. Alive Again joins the list of great Neal Morse epics

This is a strong release and one that maybe could bring Neal to the attention of a mainstream audience. Although I don't think Neal would be bothered by that. He just seems happy making music....and what great music it is.

****+ Dave Smith

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