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Guitar maniac and songwriter Neal Morse is no stranger to conceptual albums, having been the founder of Spock's Beard. Morse decided to leave the band and pursue his own vision of uniting his faith with his music unabashedly and without subtlety. He did this first on the double album Testimony in 2003, followed it up in 2005 with ?, and continues it on his most ambitious and perhaps most controversial project yet in Sola Scriptura. With a rhythm section of bassist Randy George and drummer Mike Portnoy from tech-metal progenitors Dream Theater, Morse also enlisted the help of fellow guitar wizard Paul Gilbert on a few tracks, and employed strings, a French horn, and a chorus of backing vocalists to help him realize the project. At the risk of oversimplifying, Morse has written a work based around Martin Luther's posting his thesis on the Wittenburg Door and bringing about the Reformation, the great schism where Protestantism was created. Morse claims in his brief liner essay that he had no knowledge of Luther's rabid anti-Semitism when he wrote the album and considered not recording it when he learned this. He also says ."..but I feel that the main point is that the way God used him to protest false religion is still a good example of courage and boldness for a Godly cause." Hmmm. One has to wonder what those who practice Judaism feel about this. There is more to disagree with here, because not only in his album's lyrics but in his strange disclaimer at the end of his notes about not singling out only one church needing reform -- he does just this nonetheless by celebrating the great contributions of the Wesleyans and the Pentecostals. Morse, who uses his own approximations of Gregorian chant and high sacred choral music that far preceded the Reformation, seemingly doesn't see the contributions made by the Church to the culture of the West and to music in general. There is some ignorance in Morse's lofty intentions not only of histories both religious and social, but of culture in particular -- he should have never written that disclaimer because he's opened himself to speculations about his own sense of prejudice. Does this make the music bad? Hardly. As prog heads into the 21st century, it's genuinely creative, innovative as it weaves elements of jazz and classical music as well Afro-Caribbean rhythms into his metallic attack. His beautifully dovetailed lyrical segments are almost seamless in that they travel from Luther's original problematics and arguments with the Catholic Church to the fall of Babylon and the renewal of a new Christian faith as the result of mass repentance. As a Church in Morse's use of scripture is both literal and liberal here, this can be slippery, but his musicality cannot be faulted. His is an unbelievably gifted man whose sense of a whole contains all the pretensions of prog's original excesses, but his sense of weeding down instrumental passages, time shifts, and thematic and textural changes is almost always tasteful and instinctually in keeping with his rock & roll guitar player's heart. The four tracks on this set are divided into numerous subsections that are always warranted in context with the production angle of this music, making it as big as the history he's trying to portray and as close to scale as possible. Musically, Sola Scriptura is as close to brilliant as it gets. There are other issues involved, as pointed out here, and these too are simply questions of interpretation. To his credit, Morse invites discussion at his website.
Performance CreditsNeal Morse Primary Artist,Guitar,Keyboards,Vocals
Paul Gilbert Guitar,Guest Appearance
Mike Portnoy Drums
Richard Morse Background Vocals
Chris Carmichael Violin,Viola,Electric Violin
Michael Thurman French Horn
Randy George Bass
Debbie Bresee Background Vocals
Wade Browne Background Vocals
Revonna Cooper Background Vocals
Wil Henderson Vocals
Amy Pippin Background Vocals
Joey Pippin Background Vocals
Rachel Rigdon Violin
Hannah Vanderpool Cello
April Zachary Background Vocals
Technical CreditsNeal Morse Composer,Producer
Thomas Ewerhard Artwork
Jerry Guidroz Engineer