Neal Morse's Testimony Two CD as reviewed for The Phantom Tollbooth by Bert SaracoNeal Morse gets even more up close and personal as he re-visits the story of his conversion – warts and all – on Testimony Two, a masterful, affecting, state of the art prog masterwork.....

Testimony Two
Artist: Neal Morse
Label: Metal Blade / Radiant Records
Length: 13 tracks / 78:22

In Testimony Two Neal Morse gives us a closer, transparently honest look at the spiritual journey that was depicted powerfully (but from a distance) on Testimony, the epic, post-conversion 'coming out' solo project that defined and set the groundwork for Morse's subsequent explorations of his new-found faith. While Testimony showed us an overview of Neal's quest for meaning and his eventual destination, this follow-up project (some eight years later) zooms in on the finer details of the story like a spiritual GPS - revealing potholes, detours and a route containing questionable off-ramps.

As anyone familiar with Morse's output would expect, Testimony Two is a big work, full of sweeping themes, virtuoso instrumental passages, several emotional peaks, and detailed, narrative lyrics. Not content to simply tell the greeting card version of his story, Morse let's us see the ugly side even of the night he found out about his daughter's healing in “Time Changer” - “I was drunk when I heard about her healing / when the phone rang I fell out of bed / When I got the news it blew out a fuse in my head...” Before the song ends, Morse confesses, “The first thing I said is 'I don't believe it' / Then fear gripped my heart and held on / I'd rather just grieve than start to believe and be wrong.”

For fans of Morse's stunning piano and synth playing and emotional, powerful guitar work Testimony Two comes across with some of the artist's strongest performances to date, with guitar work that holds its own even against the guest contributions of the amazing Paul Bielatowicz (“Overture No. 4” and “It's For You”). Driving, thunderous prog drumming is provided by the legendary Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) and complex, intricate bass lines played with precision and energy by Ajalon's Randy George. Over the generous78 minutes (and there's 37 minutes more on the bonus disc ), expect to hear influences ranging from The Beatles to Yes, and even a musical reference or two to The Who – classic rock mingled with progressive sensibilities have marked Neal's solo work as well as his time with Spock's Beard and Transatlantic, and Testimony Two continues the tradition to the best possible effect.

Perhaps the emotional heart of the album occurs in “Jesus' Blood” which includes incorporates lyrics from Anna Waterman's 1920 hymn, “Yes , I Know.” Morse turns the hymn (often sung in church with a marching band gusto) into a heavy, blues-infused anthem, full of pain and wonder at God's transforming power. A searing guitar solo by Morse (which I originally assumed was performed by Bielatowicz) precedes a passage so heavy with emotional intensity that a warning label should be put on the cover warning people not to listen while operating moving vehicles.

Testimony Two is the story of the healing of two hearts – a physical healing for one and a spiritual healing for another, the 'second' heart being that of the writer / producer / multi-instrumentalist and vocalist of this prog confessional – Neal Morse. Morse's signature vocals tell the story with his typically passionate delivery of some very clever yet clearly narrative lyrics. Rock, soul, and even a complex a capella baroque vocal moment all serve the musical format and story-line well as Morse straddles the variety of musical styles employed to describe the conflicts of a rock and roll star's search for meaning before and after conversion. Former Spock's Beard band-mates and even CCM legend Matthew Ward join in for particularly special moments of vocal harmony (and some rocking, Stevie Wonder-like soul from Ward), further lending to the epic quality of the personal prog rock-opera.

There's something for everyone here: prog, blues, and rock, faith, hope and doubt, humor, passion and virtuosity – Neal Morse's Testimony Two is testimony to God's grace and also to Morse's chops as a major prog artist.

Continue the journey.....

-Bert Saraco