"Jesus Christ The Exorcist - Live at Morsefest 2018" (Frontiers; 2020)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

As anyone who has read these pages (and especially my reviews) know, I'm a huge Deep Purple fan. "Machine Head" was actually the first album I ever purchased and I've reveled in the band's new music and live performances ever since.

The reason I bring up Deep Purple in a Neal Morse review is that when I was a kid, because I was a big Deep Purple fan, I found a vinyl copy of the Original Cast Album for Andrew Lloyd Webber's among my mother's Johnny Mathis records and was surprised to see that Purple's very own Ian Gillan sang the part of Jesus. It was enough for me to pull out those records (it was a two disc set), slap them on the turntable, put on my headphones and listen to the entire recording from beginning to end. Afterwards, I was of course blown away by Gillan's amazing performance but I also realized something else: I truly believed that I had learned more about the life of Jesus Christ from 90 minutes of listening to "Jesus Christ Superstar" than I had learned in all those years of Sunday School and church visits. Pretty impressive.

So now we get to Neal Morse who has kind of done the same thing. Despite its title, "Jesus Christ: The Exorcist" is not about the son of God puking up a viscous green porridge. Like "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Jesus Christ The Exorcist" is the story of the life of Jesus Christ. Morse, of course, tells his version of the story with his style of music, much more of a modern progressive take than Webber's 1970 musical. But there are a lot of similarities, too. The characters are played with different voices; many of them have their own theme, and the story is told up to and beyond the death of Christ on the cross.

By the way, if you're curious (as was I) as to why Morse used "The Exorcist" in his title, he explained in a recent interview:

This is the live version of the original album which, sadly, I have not listened to (yet). It sounds great, often as good as a studio recording but I have to say that sometimes the audience reaction and the performers interaction with them get in the way of the storytelling here. It's not often but it's enough to notice. Otherwise, the performances are amazing throughout, vocally, instrumentally and dramatically. I can't compare the studio version of "Jesus Christ The Exorcist" to the live version, but I can tell you the live version is pretty awesome.

Bottom line here is that Neal Morse fans will want to add this to their collection while others may want to check out the studio version first. Either way, I would recommend setting aside some time (this double album runs over two hours), slipping on some headphones and listening to this from start to finish, with the lyrics in front of you, if you can find them. Like "Jesus Christ Superstar" before it, "Jesus Christ The Exorcist" tells the story of Christ in a unique way that may appeal to some much more than someone orating from the pulpit.

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"One" (Metal Blade/Radiant; 2004)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

One of my first review responsibilities for Rough Edge was the “Day For Night” CD by Spock’s Beard. One of the primary leaders of Spock’s Beard was Neal Morse. A few years back Neal Morse left Spock’s Beard to more closely follow his heart as a solo artist.

“One” is Morse’s fourth solo CD and his second effort as a solo artist post-departure from Spock’s Beard. “One” is filled with progressive rock’s sweeping ambition, carefully crafted songs, and epic songwriting. That means it’s not too different than Spock’s Beard, but Morse’s solo work seems to have a bit more of the "sole songwriter" vibe to it despite contributions from Randy George on bass (unknown to me up until this point) and the exquisite drumming abilities of Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy.

“One” clocks in at 79 minutes and 55 seconds which means it is five seconds shy of filling up the entire CD. But it’s still about 80 minutes shorter than his previous effort “Testimony.” Why do I mention all this? The heart and the mind of a progressive rocker is typically not satiated until an idea is complete. And in this modern, CD world the fulfillment of an idea that takes 80 minutes is now fully possible. Thank God Neal Morse can pull it off.

“One” is a lot to absorb, but if you like a good prog rock album that manages to be expressive, challenging, and not the least bit afraid of being a tad self-indulgent on occasion then this is the latest and greatest prog-rock CD for you. “One” expertly pulls from many genres of which many are familiar to progressive rock fans and some aren’t quite well known. Regardless, the disc has a gentle ebb and flow which guides the listener rather than pushes and drags ‘em around.

What’s interesting about the sequence of albums that I’ve recently chosen to review for Rough Edge is that I’d pretty much gone through a serious run of old-school black metal. “One” is the counterpoint to all of the anti-Christian sentiment I’ve been exposed to lately. Morse, unrepentantly, acknowledges the presence of Jesus Christ in his life. Morse’s dedication is readily evident here and it makes for compelling subject matter.

“One” was produced by Neal Morse. The overall sound and presentation of “One” is clear, but most importantly it is as sonically compelling as the story Morse is trying to convey.

Neal Morse handles all the vocals, guitar, and keyboards, and is joined by Randy George on bass and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) on drums. Guitarist Phil Keaggy makes a few guest spots and a host of symphony musicians add to the proceedings as well.

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Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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Copyright © 2020 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.