The Great Adventure is the third studio album from the Neal Morse Band, the second double album, and the second drawing inspiration from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (who knew that you could get like four hours of progressive rock out of one 17th century Christian allegorical novel: Actually, now that I think about it, I’m surprised there aren’t more). With each album, the fingerprints of the rest of the band – Eric Gillette in particular – have become more noticeable; with Eric even providing lead vocals for some of the biggest passages on the album. If you’re a fan of progressive rock whom has never quite gotten into Neal Morse, this is also a great time to try him out again, as the The Great Adventure has everything long time fans love about Neal Morse, but the contributions from the rest of the band have added some power and a little more of a modern touch than previous albums.
If you’re not familiar with The Neal Morse Band, it was formed out of Neal’s previous solo projects which he’s been producing for nearly twenty years. It took long-time studio contributors Mike Portnoy and bassist Randy George adding their input – as well as the input of newcomers keyboardist Bill Hubauer and guitarist Eric Gillette – to the whole creative process, where previously Neal had written his solo albums by himself and simply brought in other musicians to record.
The album, a continuation of The Similitude of a Dream, is 22 tracks in all. These tracks are divided across two disks with each disk representing one “Act” of the story, and then the tracks are also divided into five chapters. One of the staples of Neal Morse’s writing has always been strong use of musical themes binding songs to each other throughout the album. The Great Adventure continues this trend and even expands on it. Chapter 1 provides a link between Similitude and The Great Adventure, pivoting the last line of the former album into the first line of the next, and then moves on to the overture – a staple of Neal Morse’s concept albums, and of symphonic prog in general.
Chapter 2 brings some darker colors and themes, as well as some great riffs, with “Dark Melody” and “I Got To Run” being great examples of how the contributions of the band have helped sharpen Neal’s writing. The title track begins Chapter 3 on a more positive note, with some familiar Neal Morse grooves pushing the album forward.
Act 2 begins with a second “Overture,” featuring some fine guitar work, and continues to probably the catchiest, most earwormy track on the album, “Vanity Fair.”
With Chapter 5, the album comes to a close, and the final track – “A Love that Never Dies” – is perhaps the finest album closer in Neal Morse’s long history of writing powerful closing tracks (see Transatlantic’s “Dancing with Eternal Glory” and “Stranger in Your Soul” or Spock’s Beard’s “Made Alive Again/Wind at My Back” or Neal Morse’s “The Temple of the Living God” for reference material), bringing a great album to a powerfully emotional finish.
It’s not just the closing track: The Great Adventure has many powerful and emotional moments, as well as incredible instrumental performances. The Neal Morse Band’s fantastic compositions and uplifting lyrics have given us a great start to 2019.
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