NEAL MORSE – The Dreamer – Joseph; Part One (2023) *HQ*
On the heels of the “Jesus Christ the Exorcist” Rock Opera, talented NEAL MORSE has created his latest prog epic, entitled “The Dreamer – Joseph: Part One”. The album tells the classic story of Joseph (the one with the coat of many colors!) using the medium of progressive rock as only Neal can.
The story unfolds with Morse employing amazing vocalists like Ted Leonard (Spock’s Beard, Pattern Seeking Animals), Matt Smith (Theocracy) and Jake Livgren (Proto-kaw, Kansas) to sing the roles of Joseph’s brothers, as they grow dark with jealousy and throw him in the pit.
As well as casting the characters in the story, Neal also sought out the finest musicians for the musical “roles”. So you’ll hear the soaring guitar playing of Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs) and Eric Gillette (NMB) among others, as this familiar story comes alive through amazing music that will thrill all fans of progressive rock.
The album has everything a fan would look for: from long epics and odd time signatures, to very melodic and song-oriented tracks. “The Dreamer – Joseph: Part One” is all the elements you would hope for from a new Neal Morse progressive rock album, and more.
And this is just Part 1… “Part 2” will follow in 2024.
The album opens with the sound of a buzzing desert fly that cleverly turns into a strings-based drone, kicking off ‘The Dreamer Overture’. Those who know Morse’s concept work from 2002’s masterpiece ‘Snow’ through the remarkable ‘Similitude of a Dream’, to ‘JCTE’, will know that the overtures to Morse’s concept albums have become a fan-club talking point. They are elaborate, considered and powerful, yet somehow different every time and they are anticipated with much zeal.
This overture is no exception, setting the scene with myriad musical themes and instrumental flavors including real strings, brass, tympani, a Hammond solo, gongs, false stops and starts and everything else you can think of in between. With oodles of bombast and huge production, one can imagine this overture being performed by a massive cast at a future Morsefest. It will undoubtedly fill the room if and when that happens, and then some.
It is not long before ‘Prologue-Before the World’ introduces Morse’s familiar warm voice, and it is with this, really, that all becomes well in the world of Prog music again. It is a slow and powerful piece that builds into an anthem, and it keeps good company with Morse’s best and saddest ballads ever. His Flying Colors bandmate, the legendary Steve Morse, adds a blistering solo near the end of the track that elevates the track as only he can.
The track then gives way to the upbeat ‘A Million Miles Away’, a spicy and funky acoustic rocker with the ever-present choir providing a massive foundation under Morse’s voice.
‘Burns Like a Wheel’ introduces the unmistakable voices of Ted Leonard and Matt Smith and the resulting vocal brilliance is palpable. It is at this point that the album starts to walk that unavoidable tightrope between studio concept album and theatrical musical production, but this should not deter you, since the vocalists are astoundingly good and the music never loses its quality, even if you are not a fan of musicals. This fact is revealed with repeated listens.
‘Liar Liar’ is Neal Morse at his best. Filled with power, huge harmonies and all sorts of musical hues that harken back to the main theme, this song is a reminder of just how much Morse changed our lives with Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, NMB and his solo albums. It is all there – just give it a few spins. By the time Joseph’s brothers have decided to throw him in ‘The Pit’, it once again becomes apparent how adept Morse is (regardless of his own increased role as singer on this album) at writing music suited to many varied vocal ranges. A true composer he is, because he knows just how to pitch an arrangement in the range of the intended voice, and this allows the performers to rise to the occasion with aplomb.
There is quite a bit of straight-ahead rock on the album, but it is all executed with Neal Morse’s definitive personal twist. One glorious example of this is ‘Like a Wall’, which truly rocks like a melodic hurricane, and one can imagine that it will become a must for NMB to adapt this one to fit into the set of a future tour. No-one writes a melodic Rock hook like Neal Morse.
‘Gold Dust City’ is another (mid-tempo) rocker that allows the wonderful Jake Livgren to excel in the role of the Slave Driver and Talon David is not far behind in ‘Slave Boy’. The latter is a silky, wah-wah driven slow rocker that will blow you away on (this time) the first listen, as will the strings-backed ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind.’
The temperature is lowered somewhat with ‘Wait On You’ (until Eric Gillette is unleashed on an ascendant lead solo that is,) and ‘I Will Wait On The Lord’, featuring a cloistral-sounding children’s choir, no doubt conducted by Morse. The latter was the only track that did not ‘grow’ on me, but it is, after all, a solemn, monastic choral piece that is somewhat experimental, even for Morse.
‘Overture Reprise’ brings back the frenzied Prog in a big way, and then a fabulous high point is reached with ‘Ultraviolet Dreams’. This track is a lazy, hazy but heavy blues-rock mirage that reminds us that no matter what direction Morse takes, he always brings an extra layer of class and excellence to the music. Even to the Blues. (During the verse of this track, the lyric ‘I’ll embrace the great nothing’ will undoubtedly resonate with older fans.)
‘Heaven In Charge Of Hell’ is another pinnacle, featuring grandiose catchy hooks the likes of which only Morse can deliver, around a huge orchestral intro and great sax and guitar solos. The album ends with the lonely trumpet and closing gong of ‘Why Have You Forsaken Me?’ – an intentionally cinematic cliff-hanger that immediately makes the listener wonder how ‘Part Two’ will kick off.
The following has to be said to all those who are Progressive Rock fans but deny themselves Neal Morse’s music because it sometimes has an overtly religious theme: Please, give it another go – not to do so would be a disservice to yourself. Even if you object to religious lyrics or themes, you cannot, as a Melodic Prog fan, help but love this music.
A few listens will reveal to you that it does not really need to matter what Morse is singing about. When this man composes and delivers music, something special happens, every single time, and the music speaks for itself. To those on the other hand, who are not averse to embracing a grand biblical theme, welcome home – you will undoubtedly grow to love this.
One of the greatest composers of our time, Neal Morse never fails to deliver, and ‘The Dreamer, Joseph Part 1’ is no exception, even if it might take a few spins to get there. This album is absolutely worthy of those spins and your general attention, whether you are a long-standing fan or not.
Whilst some believe that Morse repeats himself a little from time to time, perhaps the odd re-visitation of musical ideas is not such a bad thing when it is of moments of such intensely high quality. This intricate story is interwoven with, and animated by, top-drawer music that will generally enthrall Proggers and melodic rockers alike.
Whilst there are no long epics (in the Morse/Spock’s Beard sense), there most certainly are many variations, odd time signatures, brimming melodies, passages of massive power, harmonies from Heaven and, quite simply, great songs. As for the production, from each gong crash to every sax and guitar solo, it is just gargantuan.
“The Dreamer – Joseph: Part One” has all the ingredients you would demand from a Neal Morse Progressive Rock album.
01 – The Dreamer Overture
02 – Prologue_Before The World Was
03 – A Million Miles Away
04 – Burns Like A Wheel
05 – Liar, Liar
06 – The Pit
07 – Like A Wall
08 – Gold Dust City
09 – Slave Boy
10 – Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind
11 – Wait On You
12 – I Will Wait On The Lord
13 – The Dreamer Overture Reprise
14 – Ultraviolet Dreams
15 – Heaven In Charge Of Hell
16 – Why Have You Forsaken Me?
Joseph – Neal Morse
Judah – Ted Leonard
Reuben – Matt Smith
Potiphar’s Wife – Talon David
Slave Driver – Jake Livgren
Simeon – Wil Morse
Jacob – Mark Pogue
Warden and Prison Guards – Matt Smith, Mark Pogue, Wil Morse, Gabe Klein, Chris Riley