The Neal Morse Band’s Randy George: The Progarchy Interview

The Neal Morse Band, Innocence & DangerInside Out Music, August 27, 2021
Tracks: 
CD 1: 1. Do It All Again (08:55) 2. Bird On A Wire (07:22) 3. Your Place In The Sun (04:12) 4. Another Story To Tell (04:50) 5. The Way It Had To Be (07:14) 6. Emergence (03:12) 7. Not Afraid Pt 1 (04:53) 8. Bridge Over Troubled Water (08:08)
CD2: 9. Not Afraid Pt 2 (19:32) 10.Beyond The Years (31:22)

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Randy George from the Neal Morse Band about their upcoming album, Innocence & Danger. What an album! After back-to-back double concept albums, the band decided to make an album of independent songs. It’s still a double album, but it’s very digestible.

Innocence & Danger has quickly risen to one of my favorite albums of the year, and Randy George’s brilliant bass playing has a lot to do with that. His bass is more prominent in the mix, and it really shines opposite Mike Portnoy’s drums in the rhythm section. I think Neal Morse’s vocals also deserve a mention as they are the best they have sounded in years. Maybe that’s due to a lack of touring over the past year+, but he (and everyone else) sound great. The vocal harmonies are turned up to the max, and the prog is in full force. But don’t be surprised if you hear a few other surprise elements in the music – something we talk a bit about in the interview below. Oh, and “Beyond the Years,” the album’s 31-minute epic, may be the best long song I’ve heard from Neal Morse and company.

This interview was conducted on July 21, 2021 via Zoom. There was quite a bit of scratchiness in the Zoom audio, so I’ve decided to spare you that and just give you the transcript, which was edited lightly for readability. The interview is pretty wide ranging. We start with an update on the last year and a half for Randy before we go into a deep dive of the album. Then we discuss some of Randy’s influences as a musician before we talk a bit about the history of prog, it’s place in the music world, and how the future will look back on their music. 

NealMorseBand_2

Bryan: Thanks for joining me here for Progarchy. I really appreciate you taking the time.

Randy: Yeah! Happy to do it.

Bryan: It’s been tough career-wise for musicians without being able to tour. How’ve you been in that regard?

Randy: Well, you know, I guess we’re all feeling it to some degree. I guess as a function of where I live it hasn’t really been that bad. We had done that Cover to Cover 3 CD, and it was wrapped and delivered to the label before the pandemic hit. There were some videos that needed to be [made]. We wanted to do videos, so there were a few videos, and I did a couple of those. And then Neal [Morse] did Sola Gratia. I recorded that and then we did videos for that. Then we did Morsefest in September, and my wife and I have been playing locally since September, pretty much twice a month or three times a month ever since last September.

In a lot of ways, yeah we had to wear masks a little more during the time, but for the most part we kept busy. We felt it most right at the beginning. Everybody was sort of freaked out, got shut down March through July or whatever. Then people started to open up a bit. So initially everyone was a little bit like, wow, there’s nowhere to go. But we both work from home. We really didn’t travel outside very much. We’re here on our own little plot. Plenty to keep us busy here. But yeah I watched it from a distance. I’m sure for some people it was really hard, and it sucks that it had to happen like that. I look forward to the end.

Bryan: Yeah I think everybody does. Morsefest was one of the first – definitely one of the biggest in the prog world of concerts that came back in person. That was kind of exciting because it was a glimmer of hope after so many months of nothing at all live-wise.

Randy: People will always find a way.

Bryan: Yeah exactly. I’ve had a chance to listen to Innocence and Danger a little bit over the last couple of days. It’s a fantastic album. It feels like a little bit of a different direction, especially after the last two concept albums. Can you tell me about how the album came together?

Randy: Well, the whole thing – we were going to start working on Innocence & Danger way back in the beginning of 2020. We initially signed a record deal with Inside Out. Then the pandemic hit. Mike [Portnoy] was really busy with Sons of Apollo, and we didn’t really have any clear cut date in mind that we could get together and do this. So quite honestly between signing the deal and getting in the studio to do this, it was more than a year. We did in January come together at Neal’s house and wrote the whole thing in about twelve days and tracked the drums and took it home and developed it over the next couple months, and Rich [Mouser] mixed it.

We went into it not having a lot of pre-written material. Neal didn’t have anything. Bill [Hubauer] and I both brought recorded ideas that were predominantly raw ideas that could be developed rather than finished demos that already had a lot of development to them. The Neal Morse Band tends to – no matter what you bring in, they want to redo it. So we kind of, it’s easier to bring in ideas that they can all sort of get their head into and write with. Some of it is much easier to do that, between Bill and I and Eric [Gillette], we have plenty of musical stuff. Neal, of course, he may not have come in with anything, but he gets up early in the morning and he’ll start writing and work on ideas then we end up working on them the same day or the next day. So Neal does actually write a fair amount of stuff. He just doesn’t always go into the session with all of it prepared, unless it’s a concept thing were he has an idea. We knew this wasn’t going to be another concept album. We just wanted to do an album of songs. We felt it was the right time for that.

Continue reading “The Neal Morse Band’s Randy George: The Progarchy Interview”

Neal Morse Band Announce New Album for August Release

From Radiant Records:


image

Hey, everyone!

We’re delighted to announce details of the eagerly-anticipated new NMB album! Some incredible new music is coming your way. We will be starting pre-orders at www.radiantrecords.com on Friday, June 18th. Watch for our updates as we reveal some amazing exclusives relating to this release, plus another release only available from our website!

** OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE **

NMB are pleased to announce the release of their much-anticipated fourth studio album Innocence & Danger on August 27th, 2021.

With NMB’s previous two releases being concept albums, it’s perhaps remarkable that Innocence & Danger is a series of unrelated songs, but drummer Mike Portnoy says “After two sprawling back to back double concept albums in a row, it was refreshing to get back to writing a collection of unrelated individual songs in the vein of our first album.”

Indeed, making this album came easy to the band; while the initial inspiration came particularly from Bill Hubauer (keyboards) and Randy George (bass), the ideas flowed from everybody from there on, as George recalls: “I am excited about the level of collaboration that we achieved on this one. We even went in with a lot of ideas that weren’t necessarily developed, and I think in the end we have something that represents the best of everybody in the band.”

In fact – like its two acclaimed predecessors – Innocence & Danger is a double-album by inspiration, rather than design, as Portnoy explains: “As much as we wanted to try and keep it to a single album after having just done two double albums, we wrote so much material that we found ourselves with our third double album in a row! That’s pretty prog!”

There is also plenty: “There’s one half hour epic and another that’s about 20 minutes long. I really didn’t realise that they were that long when we were recording them, which I guess is great because if a movie is really good, you don’t realise that it’s three hours long! But there are also some shorter songs: some have poppier elements, some are heavier and some have three part acoustic sections. I’m excited about all of it, really.”

The album will be released as a Limited 2CD+DVD Digipak (featuring a Making Of documentary), 3LP+2CD Boxset, Standard 2CD Jewelcase & Digital Album, featuring artwork by Thomas Ewerhard (Transatlantic). Pre-orders start on the 18th June, and the full track-listing is below:

CD 1 (Innocence):

1. Do It All Again 08:55

2. Bird On A Wire 07:22

3. Your Place In The Sun 04:12

4. Another Story To Tell 04:50

5. The Way It Had To Be 07:14

6. Emergence 03:12

7. Not Afraid Pt. 1 04:53

8. Bridge Over Troubled Water 08:08

CD 2 (Danger):

1. Not Afraid Pt. 2 19:32

2. Beyond The Years 31:22

The Neal Morse Band (now NMB) was formed in 2012, featuring long-time collaborators Neal Morse (vocals, keyboards and guitars), Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals) and Randy George (bass), as well as Bill Hubauer (keyboards, vocals) and Eric Gillette (guitars, vocals). The band’s first album, The Grand Experiment, showed both a freshness and maturity that was further developed in 2016’s The Similitude Of A Dream, 2019’s The Great Adventure and 2021’s Innocence & Danger.

Look for NMB on tour in North America in October 2021 and in Europe throughout May/June 2022. Tour dates coming soon!

Blessings,

The Radiant Records Team

Neal Morse, Pete Trewavas, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt

Parallel Universes: Transatlantic’s Dueling Epics

This is probably the only time I’ll have a legitimate reason to use this cool new WordPress feature.

Transatlantic have reached the ripe old age of 21, and with that they’ve released a brand new album. Wait, that isn’t right. They’ve released two brand new albums. Well, no, they haven’t really done that either. What they have done is released two versions of one album: one at ~65 minutes and the other at ~91 minutes. The Absolute Universe: The Breath of Life is the short one, and The Absolute Universe: Forevermore is the long one. For the sake of clarity (both mine and yours), I’m going to refer to the albums as the extended version and the abridged version.

Now why on earth, you may ask, would a band want to release two different versions of an album? Excellent question. I was a bit miffed when Big Big Train did it with Folklore (the vinyl and Hi-Res audio version was longer with some tracks from the Wassail EP and a slightly altered track listing), and I’m a bit miffed that Transatlantic has done it. Apparently the band couldn’t come to an agreement on whether they should release a longer version of what they had written or a condensed version, so they decided to release both.

The abridged version is $9.99 on iTunes, while the extended edition is $16.99, so it’ll cost you just under $30 to buy the downloads. You may need to take out a loan to buy physical copies. And don’t think you can get away with buying just the extended version thinking you’ll just get the abridged version plus some extra tracks. Nope they’ve gone and changed things in the tracks that overlap, so in many ways they’re very different. There’s also a third version on Blu-Ray only that combines the two into a ~96 minute version. Good grief. I haven’t heard that version, nor do I intend to.

If you’re going to buy only one of them, I suggest you buy the extended version. It has a much better flow to it with smoother transitions than the abridged version. Even though it’s longer, it isn’t packed with filler. To my ear it sounds more like a Transatlantic album. There are more songs with Roine Stolt on lead vocals. Yes of course he sings on the abridged version, but he sings less in the second half of that album. That makes the abridged version seem to morph into a Neal Morse album as it comes to a close. “Lonesome Rebel” towards the end of extended version remedies that by restoring some balance. In addition to Roine’s stellar vocals, the mix of wonderful electric and acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies really makes this track stand out.

Continue reading “Parallel Universes: Transatlantic’s Dueling Epics”

Bryan’s Best of 2020

Looking back at 2020, it’s hard to believe that we lost Neil Peart at the beginning of the year. That loss hit me pretty hard, since Rush’s music has been central to my life from an early age. I talk more about that in my tribute to Peart: https://progarchy.com/2020/01/12/neil-peart-a-misfits-hero/. I start off my year-end review list with a reminder of the loss of Neil because it seems like a fitting way to remember 2020. Peart’s loss represents what so many people have lost this year, whether it be family members and friends due to the virus or jobs lost due to draconian forced business closures that haven’t actually accomplished anything in slowing the viral spread. Not to mention the emotional distress that physical separation is causing many people.

Another thing we lost this year was live music from our favorite bands. Big Big Train had their first North American tour planned for late spring this year. Canceled. Devin Townsend was in the middle of a glorious North American tour with Haken when everything blew up. Canceled. Obviously this list could be expanded to every band that tours. Losing live music makes it even more difficult for bands in a niche genre to spread their music to more people.

But enough lamenting. We still got a lot of great music this year. The following list is in no particular order apart from my number one album at the end. I include both new albums and live records.

Haken – Virus
I was a little surprised that I was the only person over at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page to include this one in my top ten list for their annual list. Maybe people were really sensitive about the name of the album, but it was clear that the album was written and completed before the novel coronavirus was a known entity. The music is fantastic. It’s probably their heaviest album to date, but it still has some of their calmer moments. It’s Haken through-and-through, and it makes a wonderful companion to 2018’s Vector. We also get to hear some more about our old nemesis, the cockroach king. It’s pretty cool how they worked in some of those themes. Fantastic album that should’ve received more attention than it did. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2020/07/23/haken-goes-viral-virus-album-review-haken_official/

Continue reading “Bryan’s Best of 2020”

Have a Very Merry Prog Christmas

I’d like to strike the next person who says “Christmas this year will look a bit different.” Well it doesn’t have to sound different. If you find yourself alone this Christmas Eve/Christmas (like me), there’s plenty of Christmas-related prog to keep you entertained.

Devin Townsend’s Christmas livestream
A couple hours ago Devin Townsend released a Christmas-themed live stream. If you’ve ever wanted to see the mad genius imitate a crooner, you’re in luck. Mostly he plays his own music spanning his career, and his whole demeanor is incredibly calming. It’s an acoustic set and a one-man show, so if you’re not as big a fan of the extreme side of his career, then this is the show for you. Ok it’s Devin so there are a few screams, which are almost comical considering he’s playing an acoustic guitar. The acoustic version of Strapping Young Lad’s “Love” is pure gold in that regard. The man has a golden voice no matter how he’s using it.

Dream Theater’s “The Holiday Spirit Carries On”
The mighty Dream Theater released a Christmas medley track a couple weeks ago to raise money for their live crew. It’s $2.99, and all the proceeds go to their crew. If you’ve ever wanted to hear James LaBrie sing “Fa-la-la-la-la la la-la la, then you had better buy the track soon because it’s only available during the month of December: https://dreamtheaterofficial.bandcamp.com. Here’s a brief sample:

Neal Morse’s “Last Minute Christmas Album”
Neal Morse decided to write a Christmas album over the last couple weeks, and it is available for download over at his label, Radiant Records. It’s his singer-songwriter side of things rather than his prog side, but it’s still Neal Morse. https://www.nealmorse.com/2020/12/19/download-now-neal-morse-last-minute-christmas-album/

Big Big Train’s “Merry Christmas” and “Snowfalls”
Big Big Train released the single “Merry Christmas” along with the even-better B-side “Snowfalls” back in 2017. They’ve become two of my favorite tracks of the season, and I would love to hear a whole album of original Christmas music from them, along with their take on some classic Christmas carols.

Jethro Tull’s Christmas Album
“The Jethro Tull Christmas Album” has been a favorite of mine for several years now. I listen to it every Christmas season.

LEAH’s “Ancient Winter”
It’s been a while since we’ve heaped praises upon the head of Canadian Leah McHenry. Last year she released “Ancient Winter,” a wonderful album celebrating the winter season. This album leans more into her Celtic influences than her metal influences, which fits the season. Definitely worth a listen or two.

There’s other Christmas prog out there, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. May you have a blessed holiday in spite of everything going on in the world. Christmas is a time when we remember that God humbled Himself to be born as one of us so that He could live like us before sacrificing His very life so that we might live forever if we follow Him. His burden is light when compared to the weight of our sin, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we’d all be better off bearing that burden than the weight of the world. There’s always hope in the world, no matter what’s going on. This music is just a little glimpse of the goodness available to us even in the darkest moments.

Merry Christmas.

The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!

As always seems to be the case, there’s tons of great music coming out between now and Black Friday, November 27. Below, the merest sampling of upcoming releases in prog and other genres below, with purchase links to Progarchy’s favorite online store Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

Out now:

Simon Collins, Becoming Human: after 3 solo albums and Sound of Contact’s acclaimed Dimensionaut, Phil Collins’ oldest son returns on vocals. keys and drums; his new effort encompasses rock, pop, prog, electronica and industrial genres. Plus an existential inquiry into the meaning of life! Available on CD from Frontiers Records.

John Petrucci, Terminal Velocity: the Dream Theater guitarist reunites with Mike Portnoy on drums for his second solo set of instrumentals. Plus Dave LaRue of the Dixie Dregs and Flying Colors on bass. Expect lotsa notes! Available on CD or 2 LP from Sound Mind Records/The Orchard.

The Pineapple Thief, Versions of the Truth: Hot on the heels of their first US tour, Bruce Soord and Gavin Harrison helm TPT’s latest collection of brooding, stylized alt/art rock, honing in on the post-truth society’s impact on people and relationships. Available on CD, BluRay (with bonus track plus alternate, hi-res and surround mixes), LP or boxset (2 CDs/DVD/BluRay) – plus there’s a t-shirt!

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Alone Together: Sjöblom spearheads a thoroughly groovy collection on vocals, guitar and organ, with Petter and Rasmus Diamant jumping in on drums and bass. Heartfelt portraits of daily life and love that yield extended, organic instrumental jams and exude optimism in the midst of ongoing isolation. Available on CD and LP (black or deep blood red vinyl).

[Upcoming releases follow the jump …]

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!”
Neal Morse

By Grace Alone: A Conversation With Neal Morse

Scary man with scythe is the winter snow.

Neal Morse, Sola Gratia, September 11, 2020, Inside Out Music

Tracks: 1. Preface (01:28), 2. Overture (05:59), 3. In The Name Of The Lord (04:27), 4. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones) (02:43), 5. March Of The Pharisees (01:40), 6. Building A Wall (05:01), 7. Sola Intermezzo (02:10), 8. Overflow (06:27), 9. Warmer Than The Sunshine (03:22), 10. Never Change (07:52), 11. Seemingly Sincere (09:34), 12. The Light On The Road To Damascus (03:26), 13. The Glory Of The Lord (06:17), 14. Now I Can See/The Great Commission (05:17)

Last Saturday, August 29, 2020, I had the great opportunity to talk to the magnificent Neal Morse about his new solo album, Sola Gratia. Morse is perhaps the most ubiquitous artist of “third wave” progressive rock. You’d be hard pressed to find contemporary progressive rock artists that aren’t influenced by him in some way. His latest solo effort proves why. The lyrical and musical songwriting is in peak form.

As a sequel to 2007’s Sola Scriptura, this album finds Morse exploring the story of the Apostle Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of Christians to the faith’s most ardent missionary. It is a profound story of God’s grace. Morse explores the drama of this story as Paul (then called Saul) wrestles with the newly founded Christian church and the sincerity of its followers. While Paul is on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, Jesus appears to him. Paul then converts and repents. The album ends with Paul converting and glorifying God, leaving us on a cliffhanger of sorts for a possible part 2 in the future.

The album pulls a few lyrical and musical highlights from Sola Scriptura, but, as Morse says in the interview below, they are merely sprinklings. It is enough to be familiar without sounding like a retread. The music gives room for the listener to breathe and think about the lyrics, which makes this an enjoyable album to return to. At just over an hour long it isn’t a chore to return to as a double album might be. The music has its expected complexity with the usual suspects playing on the album – primarily Mike Portnoy and Randy George – but the lyrics are the highlight here. There are a lot of calm moments that allow you to reflect. I found that quite appealing about the album, and it has quickly become one of my favorite Neal Morse solo albums.

But enough of that. The interview covers the background of the album, how it was written, and its connections to Sola Scriptura. We talked a bit about Paul, and Transatlantic and Flying Colors came up a few times as well.

Neal Morse at keyboards

Neal: Hello.

Bryan: Hi, this is Bryan from Progarchy.

Neal: Hey how you doing man?

Bryan: Good how are you?

Neal: Good! Good good.

Bryan: Thanks so much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it. I know you’re a busy man.

Neal: Well, you know, got a couple things going on. That’s alright. I’m sure you do too.

Bryan: Well I don’t have an album coming out every month. [laughs]

Neal: [Laughs] Yeah.

Bryan: So tell me about the background for your upcoming album, Sola Gratia. I’ve had a chance to listen to it several times, and it’s fantastic.

Neal: Oh thanks man. Thanks, I’m glad you like it. Well I mean I started getting these ideas while I was on vacation – sort of half vacation half work actually. We did some gigs down in Australia, and then we took a trip to New Zealand and I was just getting a flood of ideas.

Continue reading “By Grace Alone: A Conversation With Neal Morse”

Coming from Inside Out Music …

Hardly breaking stride, Inside Out Music ramps up their summer schedule with a fistful of new releases (some of which had to be rescheduled due to manufacturing delays).  Unless otherwise noted, links go to CD versions of these upcoming albums available at Burning Shed; LP and download editions will also be available.

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July

August

September

 

— Rick Krueger

Morse, Portnoy, George launch video for cover of “It Don’t Come Easy”

From Inside Out Music:

Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse, Randy George
Photo Credit: Robert Smith

Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy & Randy George recently announced their return to the Cover To Cover series of albums with ‘Cov3r To Cov3r’, the brand new third installment. Featuring their renditions of classic tracks by the likes of King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Gerry Rafferty, David Bowie & more (including their cover of ‘No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed’ featuring vocals from Yes singer Jon Davison), the album will be released on July 24th as CD, Gatefold 2LP + CD & as Digital Album.

Today they are pleased to reveal a video for their cover of ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, originally by Ringo Starr, and you can watch it now here:

Continue reading “Morse, Portnoy, George launch video for cover of “It Don’t Come Easy””

Memorial Day Weekend Prog and Prog Metal Round-Up

There is a lot of great prog and prog metal currently in the pipeline – either that has already been released or that will be in the coming months. Plenty of new singles and whole albums out.

Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant

Australian prog metal band Caligula’s Horse released their brand new record, Rise Radiant, today. For some reason their music never really connected with me before, but this album has. It is insanely good. It has the technicality mixed with the quirkiness that this generation of prog metal has become known for. Outstanding vocals as well. I’ve got some homework to do on their back catalog. If all goes well, they’ll be coming to North America next January-February for the very first time. https://caligulashorse.com

Haken – Virus

I’ve been able to listen to an advance copy of Haken’s new album for a few weeks now, and it is quite good. It has been a slow burn for me, but that could have something to do with absorbing it in the background while I work from home. It has the heaviness and the technicality we are used to, and melodies abound. There’s a gentleness in Ross Jennings’ voice that strikes me as something new, but I could be wrong. There are also musical nods to their last album as well as “The Cockroach King.” The title is bound to upset some people, but it’s not like Haken could have possibly known what was going to befall the world when they wrote and finalized the album. The release date has been pushed back a few weeks to June 19. I expect this is due to production issues with supply chains in the western world having been shut down for over two months. The band released another single today. https://hakenmusic.com

Nick D’Virgilio – Invisible

Big Big Train drummer Nick D’Virgilio has a new solo album coming out. Based on the single, it has a bit of a Big Big Train vibe in the song structure and general progression, but there’s also a Broadway theatricalness to it. The latter, according to D’Virgilio, comes from his time working with Cirque de Soleil. The album title comes from being an invisible member in the orchestra pit. Nick obviously plays the drums on this album, but he also sings. Anyone who knows his work from Spock’s Beard knows what a great voice he has. Jonas Reingold plays bass, Randy McStine plays guitars, and Jordan Rudess plays piano and sythns. Brass and string sections are courtesy of the Abbey Road Studios orchestra. Yeah this is some next level stuff. I’m looking forward to hearing the whole thing. Out June 26. https://www.nickdvirgilio.com

Continue reading “Memorial Day Weekend Prog and Prog Metal Round-Up”