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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Sep
Sounds like … progressive pop/rock that recalls aspects of Kansas, Genesis, Kerry Livgren, Brian May, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, as well as Rich Mullins and Michael W. Smith at their most creativeAt a glance … an extraordinarily open and honest expression of one man's Christian testimony, set to impressively sophisticated and proficient prog-rock

They say that what goes around comes around, and it's been true of nearly every genre in the history of pop/rock. One exception to that is the progressive rock of the '70s-rock-pop-jazz-classical fusion made famous by bands such as Yes, Genesis, and Kansas. Such music unfortunately went out of style in the '80s, relegating prog-rock bands to underground status. One such band is Spock's Beard, formed in 1992 by Neal Morse. The son of a choral director, this gifted singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer left his band behind in 2002.

But Morse is hardly done. Testimony, his fourth solo album, is a double-disc featuring 29 tracks divided into five parts, all holding together like a modern symphony. It's more than two hours long, so it's impossible to go into much detail, but the album's length is justified. Progressive rock songs tend to be lengthy because of the instrumental solos, and this album features a generous helping of amazing musicianship on guitar, piano, synthesizers, violin, and more. The long list of guest musicians includes Kerry Livgren (Kansas), Christian artist/producer Rick Altizer, Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), and members of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

Testimony is aptly named. This fascinating project is part rock opera and part prayer journal, chronicling Morse's spiritual journey with surprising honesty and detail. It all starts with the acoustic "The Land of Beginning Again," which finds Morse looking for forgiveness and a fresh start: "And I love my brother more than my own life/And no one feels mean/All things are new/Behold—the slate is clean…" That opens up into beautifully orchestrated progressive rock ("Orchestra No. 1"), followed by "California Nights," Morse's reminiscence over his childhood and the wild nights spent in search of artistic success. "Colder in the Sun" expresses the frustrations and emptiness from those pursuits, and the rhythmically acoustic prayer of "Sleeping Jesus" pleads for peace and spiritual meaning. His heart is opened to Christ with "The Prince of the Power of the Air," seamlessly transitioning into "The Promise" and "Wasted Life," two tracks of praise and surrender to God.

And that's just Part 1—40 minutes and an album in itself. Morse's story doesn't end there since he was unable to escape the guilt of his shameful past at that time. Beginning with Part 2, Morse dares to reveal what many Christian artists forget: that conforming to Christ involves lifelong surrender. The 30-minute suite begins with joy carried over from Part 1, but eventually finds the artist slipping back to his old self and becoming depressed for it. The first disc ends with Morse leaving his hometown of Los Angeles in search of purpose and meaning.

Disc 2 continues the journey with Morse moving to Nashville, meeting his future wife, and coming to understand grace through faith from attending her childhood church. The epiphany culminates in the joyful "Sing It High," colored with country-folk-gospel instrumentation to indicate the change in venue. From there, Morse wrestles with faith and reconciling his past one more time, finally expressing the joy of surrendering it all to Christ and truly being born again with the marvelous ballad "I Am Willing." Part 5 wraps things up with prog-rock praise that is as joyous as a Sunday morning Easter service. Both "Rejoice" and "Oh Lord, My God" may be the coolest worship songs I've heard all year. He ends Testimony as he started it, singing "The Land of Beginning Again" to anyone looking for the hope and peace that he has found.

That anyone could put his life story to music so openly and effectively is a tremendous feat in itself, and something for the entire Christian music industry to behold. It's all the more amazing that Morse pulls it off with stellar musicianship and arrangements, capturing the vintage prog-rock style without sounding too dated. It's not for everyone; if you prefer 3-minute pop songs, look elsewhere. But if you have diverse musical tastes in rock, pop, classical, folk, jazz, and Latin (in that order) and are looking for intelligently written, complex music, check it out. Testimony is simply an extraordinary expression of faith and artistic skill.