Neal Morse on Transatlantic’s The Absolute Universe: The Progarchy Interview

As we (and everybody else in the prog rock world) announced back in November, Transatlantic’s fifth album The Absolute Universe will be unleashed on February 5. This album will arrive not just in multiple formats, but also in multiple versions: the 60-minute, 14-track The Breath of Life (Abridged Version), the 90-minute, 18-track Forevermore (Extended Version) and The Ultimate Edition box set (both versions on LP and CD, plus a 19-track 5.1 version on BluRay).

Having had the privilege of hearing the abridged and extended versions, I’ll testify that The Absolute Universe thoroughly satisfies my craving for that special Transatlantic blend of prog past, present and future. Everything that I love about the band is there, to (and sometimes beyond) the point of gluttony; I’ve come away from each listen delighted, thrilled and moved. So it was another real treat when, the week before Christmas, I got to chat with Neal Morse about this new music. (Neal also talked to Bryan Morey about his latest solo album, Sola Gratia, a few months back.) In this interview, Neal tells us how The Absolute Universe came together, why a double album wasn’t enough, and more.

So first, thanks for talking to me!  I have been a Transatlantic fan for a long time back.  SMPT:e was actually the first thing I ever heard with you involved in it, and that got me back into prog after some time away from it.   

Right!  Good!

And then I saw you guys in 2010 in Chicago, and that was a great, great, great show!  I enjoyed that so much. 

That would have been The Whirlwind?

Yes, exactly right.

Was that at Park West?  Yeah, that was a great night!

Yeah, it was Mike’s birthday.

Right!  And they got us Giordano’s [“Chicago’s Famous Stuffed Deep Dish Pizza”] for after-show food!  [Chuckles] I remember the really good pizza!  It was a good night.

Yes, it was a great show.  I missed you the last time through [touring the Kaleidoscope album].  But now you’ve got this new album coming through the pipeline, The Absolute Universe.  And I guess my first question is: how does a new Transatlantic album happen?  Was there a certain person or a certain thing that kickstarted the process?  How did it come about?

Well, let’s see.  I think it started with me! I think I emailed everybody, if memory serves,  but that was a long time ago.  It would have been near the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019, I think.  I started the conversation, and then we started talking about schedules.  At first, it’s like “hey, do you wanna do it?” and everybody was like, “yeah, we’d like to, but …”  We had to find the right time when everybody had time for it, which wound up being the end of September 2019 in Sweden.

I remember starting to write some demos for Transatlantic in March, I think, of 2019.  And I think we went round and round about where to record and when to record for many months, till finally it was like, “OK, if we’re gonna do this, it needs to be in this window of time.”  And so, we all convened in Sweden and worked on it for about two weeks – wrote and recorded what I would call the template.  Not the keeper track, but the template for what became the long version of the album, Forevermore. 

We left there in early October, and then Mike came here into Nashville to do his keeper drums.  He would have done them in Sweden, but we ran out of time.  In fact, we were still changing the album and writing it right up on the last day, when we had to go to the airport.  And everything kind of fell into place right at the end; it was pretty amazing.

Anyway, Mike came here, did his drums in November.  Then I did my parts in December and January, and then I left to go to Australia to play some shows and take a vacation in New Zealand.  And that’s where I got away from the album, and I started working on my solo album Sola Gratia.

And then I listened to the Transatlantic album again in March, I think it was.  And I kinda had the feeling like – and this is really unusual for me, cause a lot of times I want to make things longer!  But I felt like maybe this album would benefit from some editing!   So, I started editing some things out.  I thought maybe some of the guys might like it as well, because when we were writing it in Sweden, several of the guys were wanting it to be a single disc, and they really didn’t want it to be a double.

Anyway, I sent off this edit with, I think, the subject line that read, “Am I Crazy?”  I thought they might just dismiss the whole concept right away.  But not everybody did.  Some of them were like, “maybe this is a good way to go.”  So then, we went round and round about that for a couple of months, trying to decide what was the best thing to do.

We were still trying to figure that out when Mike had the idea of releasing both!  And then once we agreed to release both, then the idea was to make the versions as different as possible.

Continue reading “Neal Morse on Transatlantic’s The Absolute Universe: The Progarchy Interview”
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”

Prog More, Spend Less: Radiant Records 3-Day Sale

radiant recordsRadiant Records–the company founded and owned by Neal Morse–is having a three-day sale, with the wonderful tagline, “Prog more, spend less.”

The sales are on cds/DVDs/ and/or blu-rays of MORSEFEST2015, SNOW LIVE, SIMILITUDE OF A DREAM, ALIVE AGAIN, KaLIVEoscope, TESTIMONY 2, MOMENTUM, GOD WON’T GIVE UP, and SO MANY ROADS.

Frankly, all specular releases.

To go to the sale (which ends this Friday), go here: http://www.radiantrecords.com/category/191735-bargain-bin.aspx

Progarchy Radio–Mike Portnoy Special

portnoy (sticks for stones)
Michael Stephen Portnoy, b. 1967

As many of you probably already know, Mike Portnoy–drum and compositional demigod–turns 50 in April.  Mike, Happy Birthday!  We love you, man!!!

I’ve had the great privilege of seeing Portnoy live many, many times, and it’s never anything but an absolute treat.  For 25 years, Mike has been driving prog rock forward and bringing to the fans, delight after delight.  My wife (who has gone to all of the concerts with me) agrees completely.

This entire two-hour episode of Progarchy Radio is dedicated to the inspired genius of Mike Portnoy.  I play the entire twelve-step suite as well as music from Flying Colors, Big Elf, Transatlantic, the Neal Morse Band, Yellow Matter Custard, and the Morse-Portnoy-George Cover-to-Cover project.

Mike, happy birthday and thank you!  –Yours, Brad

 

Radiant Records Announces Live Morsefest 2015 Set

Radiant Records has announced a live release of Morsefest 2015, featuring two concerts covering Sola Scriptura, ?, and selections from the catalogs of Transatlantic and Spock’s Beard. One of the concerts even finds Mike Portnoy and Nick D’Virgilio on the same stage together.

You can pre-order the set now over at Radiant’s website. My only beef with the variety of sets on offer (besides the high price) is the fact that they aren’t offering a 2 Blu-Ray/4CD set. All they have is the 2DVD/4CD set or the 2 Blu-Ray set. Why they aren’t offering a DVD/Blu-Ray/CD set (much like the excellent Transatlantic KaLiveoscope box set from a couple years ago) is anyone’s guess.

Check out the trailer:

Freakishly Huge Sale at RADIANT

STARTING NOW: Radiant’s Pre-Labor Day 3-Day Sale through Wednesday, 8/31!

 

BIG savings on:

Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope

Neal Morse – Songs from November

Neal Morse – Momentum

Neal Morse – LIVE Momentum

Transatlantic – Whirld Tour 2010

Transatlantic – More Never is Enough

Spock’s Beard – Don’t Try This at Home

Order within the next three days for your chance to win a surprise gift! 

(Recipients of surprise gifts will be chosen at random. If you are picked, the gift will be included with your order.)

PLUS: All orders over $60 receive a 15% discount! 

(Discount automatically deducted at checkout – no code required.)

https://www.radiantrecords.com/default.aspx

Happy Easter

Happy Easter, Progarchy. Today is the day when Christians all over the world commemorate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, conquering sin and death so that we might have eternal life, if we believe.

Check out this great video of Marillion and Dream Theater performing the song, “Easter,” way back in ’95. Enjoy.

Transatlantic’s “We All Need Some Light” is also fitting. Here’s a video from their KaLIVEoscope 2014 show. The song starts around the 4:00 minute mark, after a duet with Morse and Stolt.

Transatlantic: SMPTe. 15 Years Later.

IMG

Maybe it’s the professional historian in me, but I love dates, and I love anniversaries.

This year is the fifteenth anniversary of Transatlantic’s first album, the rather stunning and never aging SMPTe.

I’d not heard of the project until one of my students handed me a copy of the CD in the fall of 2000, about six months or so after its release.  I knew Morse (I’d been one of the first–if not the first–persons in Bloomington, Indiana, to purchase THE LIGHT from Spock’s Beard), I knew Trewavas (having been a Marillion fan since BRAVE), and I knew Mike Portnoy, having purchased every Dream Theater release since 1992’s IMAGES AND WORDS.  Roine Stolt?  Didn’t have a clue at that point, though I’d heard of The Flower Kings.

My first reaction upon seeing the CD cover was one of elation.  This looked like a very modernized Yes cover.  And, of course, I loved the starship/blimp.  I thought the album title, SMPTe, was kind of weird, as I didn’t quite get why the names of the members were so important, but, then, it was a “supergroup.”

Looking at the credits, I thought, “Ok, this is a Morse project.  I wonder why he isn’t finding enough fulfillment in Spock’s Beard?”  Not that I knew much about anything going on in any of the bands represented in Transatlantic.  I knew the music, but I didn’t know any details about any of the bands.

In fact, the only real music news I kept up on at the time was for Rush, Yes, Tears for Fears, and Talk Talk.  Admittedly, I did a very good job of keeping up with these bands, but I was aided by some really good user groups and news groups (remember those?!!?).

When I put the Transatlantic cd on my stereo, I was completely floored.  The first minute of sound effects not only grabbed me, but all 31 minutes of the epic rooted me in place.  I was utterly blown away.  Yes had given us songs at 22-24 minutes, and Rush had come close, but 31 minutes?  Holy schnikees.  This was flat out amazing.  Then, “We All Need Some Light,” which I thought sounded much like a Spock’s Beard song.  Thus, I Iiked it.  And, it was the perfect breather after “All of the Above.”  I didn’t fall in love with this track, though, until I heard it live on LIVE IN AMERICA.

The third track, “Mystery Train,” really caught my attention as well, pulling me back into the depths of the album.  I loved the psychedelia of it, and I was especially taken with the Beatle-esque refrain.  This was an updated version of something off of the MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR–yet it was an homage not a mimicry.

If I’d been captivated by tracks 1 and 3, I was once again thrown into a tizzy as I listened to the sixteen minutes of “My New World.”  The references to the Doors and Jimi Hendrix sold me.  And, I’m a sucker for Stolt’s voice.  As soon as I heard this album, I immediately purchased all of The Flower Kings up to that point.

SPACE REVOLVER, by the way, became and remains one of my top ten favorite all-time albums.

As I looked back over the first four tracks of SMPTe, I came to realize how very different each song had been.  There was no distinctive “Transatlantic” song.  They each hit me in different ways.

Then, as though I deserved dessert (which I didn’t!), Transatlantic gave me a remake of one of the best Procol Harum songs ever written.  Granted, it wasn’t “Simple Sister” but it was the next best thing.

When Transatlantic played live over the internet, I listened.  When the live album of that recording, LIVE IN AMERICA, came out, I bought it–the day it came out.  And, I’ve done the same with every single live or studio CD since.  I will admit that I was horribly shocked by Portnoy’s language on the live releases.  At the time, I was only recently married.  My wife comes from a very conservative Texas family, and she knew nothing about prog.  As I was listening and Portnoy said inappropriate things, I cringed.  Astoundingly, my wife either didn’t hear Portnoy or chose not to hear.  She’s now as much a Morse/Portnoy fan as I am.  So, all’s well that ends well!

I will admit that it’s a bit hard for me to accept that I first heard SMPTe fifteen years ago.  At that point, I was newly married, and my oldest child was just a year old!  Now, he’s sixteen, and he has six siblings!  Sheesh.

And, my wife is now a prog fan.  Again, the times do change.

A huge thank you to Morse, Portnoy, Trewavas, and Stolt.  That one album from a decade and a half ago introduced me to the Flower Kings, and it made me realize that third-wave prog was and remains pure, unadulterated love and beauty.

Radiant Records News

Radiant Records

Greetings from the Radiant Team!

It’s time for our Weekly Featured Product! This week, our featured item, is Songs From November, the latest solo album from Neal Morse! This week ONLY, you can get Songs From November for just $9.99 (regular price – $13.99).  As one reviewer put it, “Songs From November may be [Neal’s] bravest outing to date. Musically, creatively, and production-wise, it’s like nothing he’s ever done. The final 11 songs are among the best that Neal has ever composed.”  Get it today for only $9.99!

Neal Morse

Songs From November

 $9.99 this week only!

Other Items We’re Loving Right Now

 
March ’15 Inner Circle Release,
More Songs From November, 
Neal Morse
FREE to IC members
Transatlantic
Kaleidoscope
3 Disc SE Digipak
$27.99

Stay tuned for more Featured Products coming every Monday!

Is 2014 Over Already?

Time flies when you’re having fun listening to great music! 2014 brought in a bumper crop of excellent music in general, and prog in particular. Here are my favorites of the year:

Robert-Plant-lullaby-and-The-Ceaseless-Roar_638

10. Robert Plant: Lullaby And …The Ceaseless Roar

Mr. Plant returns to his folk roots of Britain, and delivers a thoroughly enjoyable set of songs. A couple rock out, but this is mostly an acoustic tour de force that transcends any musical trends of the day.

WOAFB-cover

  1. Lunatic Soul: Walking On A Flashlight Beam

This album didn’t garner the rave reviews of his first two, but I still think anything Mariusz Duda produces is far better than 90% of anything else out there. “Treehouse” may be my favorite song he’s ever recorded.

So much greater than a muppet.

  1. John Bassett: Unearth

This album opened my eyes to entirely different side of Mr. Bassett’s talent, and I love it. I hope he does more music in this vein – thoughtful, melodic, acoustic pearls.

Disconnect-cover

  1. John Wesley: Disconnect

Mr. Wesley has been Porcupine Tree’s secret weapon when they play live, and on the side he has been quietly making extraordinary music of his own. Disconnect is his best ever, and it features the inimitable Alex Lifeson on “Once A Warrior”.

Demon-300x300

  1. Gazpacho: Demon

It took me awhile to get into this album, but it was definitely worth the effort. It is a beautiful package, from the artwork and lyrics to the music itself. The subject matter is very dark, but listening to the entire album is a cathartic experience. It also has Jan-Henrik Ohme’s strongest vocals to date.

nao cover THE THIRD DAY

  1. North Atlantic Oscillation: The Third Day

Their third album, and the third one to make one of my best-of-the-year lists. Soaring vocals, gorgeous string arrangements, a wall of sound that is indescribably exhilarating. If Brian Wilson produced Catherine Wheel, it might sound as good as this.

Stunning album cover.  A progged-out version of Dolby's GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS.  Brilliant.

  1. Cosmograf: Capacitor

A marvelous steampunk trip through metaphysical dimensions. Robin Armstrong’s imagination knows no bounds, and his musical talent matches it.

Second Nature

  1. Flying Colors: Second Nature

Wow. No “sophomore slump” for this band. One of the many Neal Morse/Mike Portnoy projects that are active these days, Second Nature is an outlet for the more melodic side of their talents. Throw in the genius guitar work of Steve Morse, and this is an irresistible set of songs.

Restorations_by_Haken

  1. Haken: Restoration

Their Mountain album was my favorite of last year, and the only reason this isn’t number one is because it’s only 34 minutes long. I admit it – I’m greedy for more Haken music!

transatlantic-kaleidoscope-box-set-cddvd-deluxe-edition-11801-MLB20049782288_022014-O

  1. Transatlantic: Kaleidoscope

With Kaleidoscope, Stolt, Morse, Portnoy, Trewavas finally become a real group. On earlier works, you could tell which bits were Neal’s, which were Roine’s, etc. Every song on Kaleidoscope is stamped with Transatlantic’s distinctive sound, and it is a glorious one.