Morse, Neal - Sola Gratia,
While the title of this album obviously has links back to 2007’s ‘Sola Scriptura’, which was about the life of Martin Luther, and this is about the apostle Paul, it is actually all due to a misunderstanding. Morse says, “I was talking to my wife Cherie about debuting this new piece at Morsefest 2020 (Morse’s annual fan convention in Nashville) and she said she thought it would be good for me to do a solo album. However, I thought she said, ‘Sola album’ and – because some of the new ideas involved Paul’s aggressive pursuit of the early Christians, I could see a link to some of the themes of persecution in ‘Sola Scriptura’.” Unlike his other albums, this was recorded virtually due to lockdowns, with Randy George and Mike Portnoy remotely adding their parts to the basic tracks, without any rearrangements, which is why this led to being credited to Neal Morse and not The Neal Morse Band. Normally the whole band works together on the writing, and while Eric Gillette plays some guitar and Bill Hubauer keyboards, neither provided any input to the composition nor do they sing.
Mind you, given that Neal is a multi-instrumentalist who is as happy on keyboards as he is on guitar, that is not really an issue when it comes to putting together an album. This finds him very much in his element, telling a Christian story but in his own way, with all the bombast and bluster that one expects from him. After the disappointment of the theatrical ‘Jesus Christ The Exorcist’, and the fun compilation ‘Cov3r To Cov3r’, here is a composer and performer very much back on form. While it may not have the emotional power of ‘Testimony’, it is unlikely that will ever come again as it was such an incredible outpouring (being at his London show on that tour is something I will never forget), it certainly demonstrates he is very much back in his element. He has moved on from the overtly Spock’s Beard style which came through his early solo albums, as one would expect, and he had broadened the approach so while he provides plenty of bombast at times, and wonderful proggy interludes there are also some great singalongs with “Building A Wall” possibly being one of his most overtly commercial songs for some time.
I have been a fan of Neal since I first heard ‘The Light’ and have been lucky enough to interview him a few times and seen him play both with the Beard and solo. This album is an absolute delight for fans like me and one which will regularly return to the player.