As a performer and songwriter, Neal Morse has a long road behind him – filled with various bands, one of which is the wonderfully named Spock’s Beard, solo work, and collaborations. Along the way, he has found faith in God, which has impacted on his songs. Prog rock is his favoured genre, and this album, to be released on 16th, February 2015, displays his fine ability as a musician. Indeed, as an outfit, The Neal Morse Band (Neal Morse – vocals, guitar & keyboards, Mike Portnoy – drums, Randy George – bass, Eric Gillette – guitar & vocals, and Bill Hubauer – keyboards & vocals) is in excellent form. If you’re into Yes and early Genesis, you’ll enjoy the epic qualities of “The Grand Experiment”. I only wish the lyrics were as good as the music.
We have just five tracks here – yes, five, but this is prog and you get length for your money. At just over 10 minutes, the album kicks off with “Following The Call” – in turn, funky, aggressive, sweet, and dramatic and has some great jazzy bass lines. Very nice vocal harmonies are marred by lyrics on the cheesy side. Of course, one person’s sentimentality is another person’s inspiration. Title track, “The Grand Experiment” is about half the length, with a catchy tune, more lovely harmonies and a good guitar solo. Its most impressive part is when the vocal and keyboard delicately intertwines.
“Waterfall” is my favourite track – a gentle, acoustic song, with harmonies and a melody that stick. Spiritual cleansing and a search for peace fuels this idyll and only a really tough-nut cynic would kick against it. “Agenda” is the shortest track, at pop hit length, a catchy ‘70s-resembling bit of soft rock that grows on me with each play.
Now, if you want ‘epic’, the album ends in ambitious fashion with “Alive Again”, clocking in at 26:42. Like a piece of classical music, it has different movements – soft rock, prog jazz, classical, rock guitar solos, acoustic guitar, and nimble noodling co-habit nicely. Upbeat sentiments abound, such as “I feel like I’m alive again” and “I can see the light”.
Neal Morse knows how to do light and shade – when to be loud and when to be quiet. With a great ear for harmony, he also knows how to keep things moving at a good pace. More skilful lyrics would have lifted “The Grand Experiment” higher, but if you go with the flow of the music, it’s a good listen.