Neal Morse – Jesus Christ The Exorcist: Live At Morsefest 2018 (Album Review)

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Legendary prog rocker Neal Morse is set to release “Jesus Christ The Exorcist ( Live At Morsefest 2018)”, a new live record that captures the first and only staging of his critically acclaimed prog-rock opera “Jesus Christ The Exorcist” during his annual musical event at Morsefest 2018. 

Anyone familiar with Neal Morse surely knows the story about how back in 2002, he decided to step out from the mighty Spock’s Beard, even if it meant departing the band after releasing the prog-rock masterpiece known as “Snow.” He did it to pursue a musical direction that reflected his beliefs as a recently converted Christian, an approach that has remained constant for the last 18 years on his several musical endeavors. 

Jesus Christ The Exorcist” results from Morse’s artistic vision reaching a further layer on his way to glorify the Lord through his music, leading him to create an ambitious prog-rock opera that portrayed Jesus’ story. It was premiered at Morsefest 2018 to an audience that traveled worldwide without knowing what to expect since the final version of the musical hasn’t been released yet. 

I was lucky enough to be among the attendees, so I can tell that the countless pair of teary eyes among the audience showed the consensus: Neal once again created an impressive and triumphant piece with the ability to shake and move those who gathered. Now, everyone will have the chance to embrace and enjoy the experience that watching the staging of “Jesus Christ The Exorcist” grants, since it portrays with brilliant accuracy the energy and the mysticism experienced.

The lights are off, the rumbling sound of percussions indicates that the prog-rock opera has begun. Audience expectation peaks as a dim light illuminate the musicians in charge of providing the challenging music to Neal’s take on Jesus’s story. The usual suspects are there, every member of The Neal Morse Band minus Mike Portnoy, whose position at the drumkit is being handled by the phenomenal Eric Gillette who truly delivers in spades. Paul Bielatowicz is in charge of the six strings department, showcasing his impressive guitar abilities through several show highlights that will see him tapping, shredding, and soloing, making it look easy as he seems to be having a ball. The line-up is enriched by Morsefest treats, such as a choir, a full orchestration of horns and strings, and of course, the absolute asset of the night: the amazing singer’s cast. 

At first, it seems odd that Neal does not take the stage center if such night is about one of his dearest projects. Instead, he is behind the constant flow of singers who take the spotlight every time they have entered the scene. At the same time Morse acts as a musical director, watching from the back how the staging unfolds, with a radiant and vibrant face.

Despite the staging not being ostentatious, Neal and company demonstrate how they can carry the weight of an ambitious concept on their shoulders thanks to their musicianship skills. Don’t expect fancy costumes or complex staging; they are not needed. Just as in the case of Ted Leonard, who without acting or any other theatrical element, delivers a compelling and solid portray of Jesus with the mere power of his voice. Similarly, the rest of the featured singers completely own the role they played, something expected when considering who they are. Such cast includes Nick D’Virgilio who with his warm and melodious voice gets to sing some of the most emotional parts of the musical – his delivery on “Heart Full of Holes” really tugs at the audience heartstrings, or Rick Florian, who portraits a playful yet fearsome devil, and John Schlitt, who provides some of the most rocking moments of the night with the anthemic “He Must Go To The Cross”, where the audience is ripped from their seats and invited to foot-stomp and applaud following the heavy beat. 

“Jesus Christ The Exorcist: Live At Morsefest 2018” Album Artwork

Other singers shine with their own light, the likes of Theocracy’s front-man Matt Smith, who’s potent voice cuts like a knife through the airwaves while giving life to John The Baptist, or Jake Livgren’s who really brings it home during his sensible redemption of PeterMark Pogue, as the tormented character at “The Madman of The Gadarenes” is at the center of an outstanding and brilliant section where multiple acapella voices a la Gentle Giant sung by the demons afflicts him, progressively overlapping one another. Such technique has become a recurring and celebrated approach of Neal’s catalog, and this time its use is flawless and really adds the “epic” touch to the part. 

Speaking about the singers, the surprising Talon David wholly steals the show with her stellar portrayal of Mary Magdalene. Despite her short age, the Nashville singer takes over the musical and carries its weight with shocking ease. Her formidable register commands some of the most emotional moments of the night, just as in the stirring last duet with Leonard, who can’t contain his tears, completely overcome by the touching and heartwarming moment. In the end, the whole cast reunites for a reprise version of the Morse anthemic instant classic “Love Has Called My Name”. Cast and audience join in joy and amazement, leaving teary eyes on many of most of the faces, the performers included. Purely magical. 

Morse endearing ability to move the listener, to shake his foundations, and make him feel deep emotions through his music, succeeds once again by presenting “Jesus Christ The Exorcist (Live At Morsefest 2018)”, a captivating and triumphant prog-rock opera full of diverse musical approaches that range from prog, blues, power ballads, choral tunes, and rock, maintaining cohesiveness and first-class musicianship through the whole show. If you were there, this is the best souvenir you could ever have from such night. If you were not, this is your chance to experience the portentous display of Morse’s prog-rock opera. 

Released By: Frontiers Records
Released Date: December, 4th, 2020
Genre: Progressive Rock

 Musicians:

  • Neal Morse / Guitars, keyboards
  • Paul Bielatowicz / Guitars
  • Bill Hubauer / Keyboards
  • Eric Gillette / Drums
  • Randy George / Bass

Cast:

  • Ted Leonard – Jesus
  • Talon David – Mary Magdalene
  • Nick D’Virgilio – Judas
  • Rick Florian – The Devil
  • Matt Smith – John The Baptist
  • Jake Livgren – Peter
  • John Schlitt – Caiaphas
  • Neal Morse – Pilate, Demon 1, Disciple 1
  • Mark Pogue – Israelite 1, The Madman of the Gadarenes, Pharisee 2
  • Wil Morse – Israelite 2, Demon 3, Pharisee 1
  • Gabe Klein – Demon 2, Pharisee 4
  • Gideon Klein – Demon 4
  • Julie Harrison – Servant Girl

“Jesus Christ The Exorcist (Live at Morsefest 2018)” track-listing:

 CD1:

1. Introduction
2. Overture
3. Getaway
4. Gather the People
5. Jesus’ Baptism
6. Jesus’ Temptation
7. There Is A Highway
8. The Woman of Seven Devils
9. Free at Last
10. The Madman of The Gadarenes
11. Love Has Called My Name
12. Better Weather
13. The Keys to The Kingdom
14. Get Behind Me Satan

CD2:

1. He Must Go to The Cross
2. Jerusalem
3. Hearts Full of Holes
4. The Last Supper
5. Gethsemane
6. Jesus Before the Council and Peter’s Denial
7. Judas’ Death
8. Jesus Before Pilate and the Crucifixion
9. Mary at the Tomb
10. The Greatest Love of All
11. Love Has Called My Name (Reprise)

 DVD / Blu Ray:1.

1. Introduction
2. Overture
3. Getaway
4. Gather the People
5. Jesus’ Baptism
6. Jesus’ Temptation
7. There Is A Highway
8. The Woman of Seven Devils
9. Free at Last
10. The Madman of the Gadarenes
11. Love Has Called My Name
12. Better Weather
13. The Keys to The Kingdom
14. Get Behind Me Satan
15. He Must Go to The Cross
16. Jerusalem
17. Hearts Full of Holes
18. The Last Supper
19. Gethsemane
20. Jesus Before the Council and Peter’s Denial
21. Judas’ Death
22. Jesus Before Pilate and the Crucifixion
23. Mary at the Tomb
24. The Greatest Love of All
25. Love Has Called My Name (Reprise)
26. Morsefest 2018 End Credits

9.5 Excellent

“Jesus Christ The Exorcist (Live At Morsefest 2018” captures the only performance of Neal Morse´s prog-rock opera about Jesus Christ. With the aid of an exceptional singer´s cast and a superlative group of musicians, Morse delivers a heartfelt, epic and superb live show that maximizes his artistic vision of rendering glory to God through the invaluable gift of his unmatched musical talent

  • Songwriting 9.5
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 9.5
  • Production 9.5
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