Neal morsefestPick of the Month. A very passionate and emotionally-compelling performance that has several moments when words, visuals, and music meet in a perfect storm of inspirational intensity...

Morsefest – Live 2014
Artist: Neal Morse
2 DVD / 4 CD package – also available on Blu-ray
produced by Neal Morse / directed & edited by Chad Hoerner
Metal Blade / Radiant Records DVD and Blu-ray

First off, you might be asking yourself, 'what's a Morsefest?' Fair question. Of course, if you're a fan of the music of Neal Morse (and that encompasses not only a solo career but involvement in several other bands) then you probably already understand that it would take nothing less than a 'festival' to really dig in deep to his most personal work – and that's exactly what we get in this incredibly all-inclusive CD/DVD package. Morsefest – Live 2014 gives you two paths to what was a full weekend of music: four audio discs and two video discs. Morse and his excellent band (Eric Gillette on guitar and vocals, Bill Hubauer on keyboards and vocals, the ever-ready Randy George on bass and vocals, and of course, stick-meister Mike Portnoy, on drums and vocals) are joined by an array of guests including the great Rick Altizer on vocals and percussion, Eric Brenton on violin, mandolin, flute and guitar, Nathan Brenton on cello, and a full horn section and small choir. Neal's brother, Alan, his son,Will, and daughter, Jayda also make cameo appearances, making this as much of a family affair as a special event drawing not only Nashville locals but fans from around the world.

The concert event was filmed and recorded at Morse's home church – the one so intrinsically part of his spiritual transformation and written/sung about in Neal's Testimony project(s). No shortcuts were taken in transforming the space into a music venue – the lighting and sound are nothing less than what you'd expect at a major prog concert. The biggest difference is that you have, cliché withstanding, the best seat in the house. The multi-camera set-up captures every nuance of the performance, featuring each player up close and personal and never missing a solo spot. The sound is pristine on both the audio CDs and the video discs – by all means, run this one through your big system, turn it up, sit back, and let it wash over you.

I've mentioned in another review that Morse is an artist that's not afraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve – and actually all over his shirt, jacket, etc. On Morsefest Live 2014 Neal performs his most personal, intimate pieces in the very place where key moments in his story happened. Add to this the fact that his son, Will and his daughter, Jayda take part in the concert (and, yes – the song, "Jayda" is performed at one point), and you have a very passionate and emotionally-compelling performance that has several moments when words, visuals, and music meet in a perfect storm of inspirational intensity. Don't think for a minute that this is cheap sentimentality, though – the musicianship and depth of musical composition are undeniable and serve the telling of the story with guts and finesse.

Having sidemen as capable as Gillette, George, Hubauer and Portnoy free up Morse to frequently step away from his keyboard and/or guitar to roam into the crowd several times, interacting with members of the audience and clearly feeling the love. The assembled players perform all of the Testimony and One albums along with encores which, as usual, are worth the price of admission. This package is a fan's dream, and you who are reading this need no enticing descriptions to convince you of the core band's chops – be assured, they're in their best form.

Each of the four audio discs use up almost all of the allotted 79 minutes possible, holding nearly 4 hours and 45 minutes of music, total, and the DVDs (which include not only both night's concerts, but a behind-the-scenes 'making of' documentary, The Morsefest Experience, by Randy George) include well over six hours of video content!

In many ways, this is the ultimate way to experience Neal Morse's most personal music – it's a prog fan's delight, of course, but it's also a way to see Morse on his own turf, free to more fully immerse himself into what must not only be a cathartic experience but a true spiritual high – and we get to experience the benefit of a musician/artist at his most vulnerable and yet, at his best.

- Bert Saraco