From Out Of A Progarchist’s Hometown: Tim Morse’s “Faithscience”

faithscience_album

I’ve never been a huge follower or fan of Sacramento’s music scene. Even with popular groups such as Cake and Tesla hailing from my hometown, the only local group ever I really dug was ’80s eclectic pop group Bourgeois Tagg (I highly recommend their two albums).

So, some 25 years later, it was a lovely surprise to see that Tim Morse’s second CD, ‘Faithscience,” the follow-up to his 2005 debut album, “Transformation,” was generating buzz among fellow progheads.

I’ve known of Morse for years through his involvement with Parallels, a Yes tribute band that I believe I once spoke to him about drumming for (but regrettably skipped out on). Since then, Morse has occasionally popped up on my radar either for Parallels or for After The Beatles, a group that covers the solo work of the Fab Four.

So, it’s fitting and with a strong dose of local pride that “Faithscience” is my first album review.

Initially conceived as a concept album about the life of Charles Lindbergh, the themes on “Faithscience” grew to include themes of love, spirituality and loss taken from Morse’s real-life experiences.  It kicks off with an instrumental opener, “Descent,” calling to mind a Neal Morse/Spock’s Beard overture. It’s clear that Morse has no shortage of ideas to present and here he makes a bold statement about his progressive rock prowess.

“Voyager” feels much like a a two-movement track. The first part combines traditional prog stylings with a tight, song-oriented arrangement, leading to a dense, anthemic solo section – a chill-inducing moment.  As the section gradually winds down, one would think the next song is about to begin. Rather, a second section of “Voyager” begins, fueled by a melodic bass line, leading to some fine soloing before an intricate synth sequence picks up an earlier acoustic guitar pattern and leads us out.

“Closer” is another prog showcase with its many twists, tuns and tones, and just when I think the track might leave us in a sonic place far from where it began seven minutes prior, Morse reprises the song’s intro to wrap things up nicely.

Morse provides a soft landing to the thrill ride that are the first three tracks with “Window,” a nylon-string guitar interlude that immediately reminded me how Steve Howe’s “Masquerade” on Yes’ “Union” – yes, a “Union” reference; sue me – broke up “I Would Have Waited Forever” and “Shock To The System” on one side and “Lift Me Up” on the other.  The accompanying crickets provide a dreamy background for the guitar to lull us into a daydream, which Morse then extends with “Numb,” the companion to “Window,” that features wonderful piano/acoustic guitar interplay accented by strings and oboe.

“Myth” shakes us from the daydream with an arena rock intro, haunting verses sections and even a touch of “prog swing” – Progarchists, I hold a copyright on that term – to lead us out.  “Found It” and “Rome” are tracks where Morse’s songwriting skills really stand out. He kicks off “Found It” with a MiniMoog-esque solo over a synth soundscape, then thunders into the track with arguably the heaviest riffs on the album, plus we’re treated to fantastic guitar soloing over the last half of the song.

“Rome” gives us a lyric delivery reminiscent of the late, great Kevin Gilbert in the verses and chorus. Again, Morse has no shortage of ideas in his “prog arsenal” but I found these more traditional song arrangements more to my taste.  The track closes with a fine violin solo courtesy of guest David Ragsdale of Kansas, blending soulful playing with technical prowess.

Morse throws the proverbial kitchen sink at the instrumental “The Last Wave,” kicking off with a Beard-like section of stops and starts, along with syncopated melodies and rhythms. A quieter guitar section takes over in the vein of “Thrak”-era King Crimson with its chorsed, delayed guitar parts, and from there it’s more prog goodness to the end.  This one is really all over the place yet Morse makes it work, ending with a heavy riff we heard at the start.

The album closes on emotional notes, first with the soulful “Afterword,” a tribute to those who help shape one’s life, beginning as a ballad and ending on an more upbeat tone. Finally, Morse brings us to “The Corners,” inspired by the tragic death of a former student of Morse’s and somewhat structurally reminiscent of “Exit Song,” the emotional epilogue to It Bites’ “Map Of The Past.” An oft-quoted passage from Thornton Wilder’s play, “Our Town,” is spoken over a moving piano part – perfectly fitting for this – then transforms into an anthemic, symphonic conclusion, taking us from grief to a sense of hope…all in just under two minutes. Beautiful.

The fine collection of progressive rock songs on “Faithscience” showcase Morse’s command of the genre. My hometown is all the much better with a talent like Tim Morse making great music in it and we’re all better off that he shares his talents with us. Do give it a listen.

The Best Album You Haven’t Heard Yet: Tim Morse’s Faithscience

faithscience_albumI’m a music addict. When I buy an album, it’s as much to get that rush of anticipation before I first hear the music as it is to actually listen to it. So, it’s wonderful to discover a new artist whose work more than justifies that initial hope of musical pleasure. Tim Morse is such an artist. His latest album, Faithscience, is an outstanding collection of progressive rock. I had never heard of him, but Faithscience showed up in the Progarchy Dropbox folder, I had a lot of yardwork to do, so I downloaded it onto the trusty iPod.

Four consecutive listens later, I’m still as excited about this guy’s music as I was the first time I discovered Spock’s Beard. (By the way, Tim is not related to Neal Morse.) My initial impression was of a definite Yes influence, and after I did a little research I found I wasn’t too far off-base; Tim is the author of Yesstories, a track-by-track  history of that band. However, if you listen to Faithscience with the deliberate attention it deserves, you’ll notice a host of other influences; I hear Ty Tabor (King’s X), Roine Stolt (Flower Kings & Transatlantic), Toy Matinee (featuring the late, great Kevin Gilbert), some 70s Kansas and Genesis, and a lot of classic Todd Rundgren (think “A Wizard A True Star” era). Morse is a multi-instrumentalist who sings and plays keyboards, as well as acoustic & electric guitar.

That’s not to say Mr. Morse is merely an imitator of those influences. They serve as a springboard to create an incredibly beautiful work that is as individual and groundbreaking as any prog classic. On his website, Tim says the initial idea was to produce an album based on the life of Charles Lindbergh. However, the songs soon expanded to embrace a much larger concept. The first two-thirds explore different aspect of journeys, while the final third is about farewells.

The first highlight is “Voyager” which is about Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight. It features some very nice keyboard solos in the vein of classic Pink Floyd and Weather Report(!). Next is “Closer”, which features a beautiful piano motif that reappears throughout the song. At first, it seems to be a standard song about getting close to a romantic partner, but it ends up having a spiritual aspect to it. It also features a killer guitar solo (video below). This is followed by a classical guitar interlude accompanied by evening crickets that segues into “Numb”, which is inspired by the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and chronicles the emotional devastation that follows a personal tragedy. It’s an acoustic piece, and it is incredibly moving.

“Myth” is an Orwellian warning about the dangers of an all-powerful state.

It’s an iron fist inside a velvet glove

I despise everything we’ve come to love.

…And it’s no mystery how this myth

Becomes our history.

Let us help you.

Truth shall make you free.

Next up is “Found It”, which features some warm, 80’s-era synths before the guitars come crashing in. It’s about leaving behind old ways of life in the search for salvation. Morse’s collaborator, Mark Dean, lays down the best guitar solos of the album on this track.

In “Rome”, Morse laments the decadence and complacence of our times by comparing them to the end times of the Roman Empire. This might be my favorite track, with the lyrics

The empire is crumbling

Sending castles into the sea.

Opportunity dissolving

Still believing we are free.

“Rome” also features a terrific violin solo by Kansas’ David Ragsdale (video below).

“The Last Wave” is a mostly instrumental track that consists of various riffs and melodies thrown together La Villa Strangiato style. We’ve got jazz vibes and trumpet, metal guitar, prog keys, and some crazy time changes on this one.

Wrapping things up are two tracks that complement each other, “Afterword”, and “The Corners”. The former is a poignant farewell to a soul mate, while the latter is a heartbreaking song about the brevity of life on a beautiful world that few truly appreciate.

Self-produced, Faithscience is a triumph. It is amazing to me that a musician is able to put together an album of this quality without any major label support. Do yourself a favor and support his art by picking up this album now. You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s “Rome”:

Here’s “Closer”: