NEAL MORSE – The Restoration – Joseph Part Two (Album Review)

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Less than half a year after “The Dreamer: Joseph Part One” was released, Neal Morse is unveiling the concluding Part Two, titled “The Restoration”. Morse is starting to create a niche of Biblical proportions for himself on Frontiers Music, what with this opus following 2018’s “Jesus Christ The Exorcist” (JCTE) double album. Given Mike Portnoy’s upcoming return to Dream Theater, which will likely decrease his availability for Neal Morse Band recordings in the immediate future, one could imagine Morse spending even more time turning Bible stories into prog rock operas over the next few years, especially if Frontiers asks for more follow-ups. 

At this point it should be clear what the listener is getting into with “The Restoration,” as “The Dreamer” has already laid the groundwork: part Broadway musical, part prog rock concept album, with a story that is inherently Christian but could also be enjoyed by non-Christians as just the plot line to accompany the top-notch music. This is essentially Part Two of a double album, so Part One should certainly be digested before taking this one on. If you need a recap, check out our overview of Part One to set the stage.

Unquestionably, Part Two veers more towards a theater production approach than Part One did, taking it more in the direction of JCTE than its predecessor. There is much more storytelling and much more vocal support from guest singers, which slows down the flow of a rock album because the lyrics are often in narrative form (e.g. “We have only come here for food”), half-sung/half-spoken. Morse delivers it well but still it’s unavoidable that the plot line is more central here, and thus the musical flow is impacted. As always, there are plenty of melodic strengths to keep the listener engaged, but the density of the storyline – the detailing of the Pharaoh’s dreams, the brothers’ cluelessness, Joseph’s internal dilemmas and convoluted schemes – can become tiresome if the listener isn’t up for this kind of approach.  

Still, for those who DID enjoy the JCTE album, Part Two is a goldmine of Morse’s talents, featuring reoccurring themes, strong musical performances, plenty of drama, and plot twists. From the humor of swatting that pesky buzzing fly at the outset, to numerous musical nods to other artists (though “My Dream”’s similarity to Journey’s “Anytime” is a little over the top), to inspired vocal and musical guests, this is one more in a long line of Morse achievements. 

Jerry Guidroz finds a great mix on the album as drums are ably covered by Gabe Klein and Eric Gillette, occasional other guitarists and bassists sit in, and horns, string, and choir sections add to the sonic fullness. But by and large, Morse covers the majority of instrumentation himself, which is never a bad thing. 

“The Restoration – Joseph Part Two”

Part Two features both innovation and retreads. On the negative side, one of the central melodic themes – alternatively played on warbling bass, sustained guitar lines, and orchestration – is annoyingly similar to “Testimony 2”’s main theme. The second half of the album starts feeling excessively long over the course of several songs as the brothers travel back and forth while Joseph struggles with his love/hate feelings towards them. And occasionally Morse misses a grand opportunity: one of the most dramatic moments is the building of tension as Ted Leonard and Morse trade vocal lines at the end of “The Brothers Repent”, reaching a fantastic climactic moment that could have exploded into a stinging guitar solo, but unfortunately, we only get a tame ensemble orchestration.  

On the good side, Morse branches out a bit into unexpected territory, the most successful of which is the celebratory “Everlasting”, complete with cuíca, a roaring Bill Hubauer guest keyboard solo, and trading guitar licks between brothers Alan and Neal. It’s unlike anything Morse has previously delivered while carrying the joy of a song like “Reunion”. Then, on the final track “Dawning Of A New Day”, Morse takes a new turn lyrically by addressing the audience directly, “So how ‘bout you?”, offering the opportunity to personalize the lesson of this tale as he continues with a characteristic closing which again draws similarities to “Testimony 2”’, this time from “Crossing Over”. It’s a grand finale, made even better by an additional line from Rick Altizer, “God gives us everything for good”. 

Overall, Part One flows better as a rock album. Morse’s ever-changing  musical dynamics become a bit manic here during songs like “The Brothers Repent” and “Restoration” where stylistic changes occur every minute. And unfortunately, there’s a few killer standout tracks on this album, whereas Part One boasted several like, “Ultraviolet Dreams”, “Wait On You”, “Slave Boy” or “Gold Dust City”. The focus is clearly more on the story here in Part Two, even while being accompanied by good music and great musicians. 

The bottom line is that if you enjoyed “The Dreamer”, you’re likely to find this to be a satisfying conclusion. But if Part One (and JCTE) were not your cup of Morse tea, this ain’t gonna set things right…better to hope Morse decides to travel in other directions for his next project. Nonetheless, there’s no denying Morse’s enthusiasm for the material. He’s clearly thrown himself fully into this endeavor, creating more stirring prog music than any Christian Dreamer could hope for. 

Released By: Frontiers Music SRL
Release Date: January 12th, 2023
Genre:  Progressive Rock

Musicians:

Cast of singers:

  • Joseph – Neal Morse
  • Judah – Ted Leonard
  • Reuben – Matt Smith
  • The Butler – Ross Jennings
  • The Baker – Nick D’Virgilio
  • Simeon – Wil Morse
  • Jacob – Mark Pogue
  • Woman – Talon David

Instrumentalists:

  • Nick D’Virgilio / Lead Vocals on 2
  • Eric Gillette / Drums on 5, 6, 7, 8
  • Gabe Klein / Drums on 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15; Keyboards on 3, 4
  • Neal Morse / Drums on 1, Bass, Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
  • Sam Hunter / Guitar on 3, 4
  • Gideon Klein / Bass on 3, Guitar on 3, 4
  • Alan Morse / Guitar solo on 14
  • Bill Hubauer / Kayboard solo on 14
  • Wil Morse / Additional vocals on 1
  • Chris West, Josh Scalf, Tyler Jaeger / Horns on 1, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15
  • Harmonie Hall, Devonne Fowlkes, April Zachary, Kim Mont, Julie Harrison, Amy Pippin, Debbie Bressee / Background vocals
  • Josee Klein, Hannah Tyler, Carl Larson and Gideon Klein / String quartet on 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

“The Restoration – Joseph: Part Two” track-listing:

  1. Cosmic Mess
  2. My Dream
  3. Dreamer in the Jailhouse
  4. All Hail
  5. The Argument
  6. Make Like a Breeze
  7. Overture Reprise
  8. I Hate My Brothers
  9. Guilty as Charged
  10. Reckoning
  11. Bring Ben
  12. Freedom Road
  13. The Brothers Repent / Joseph Revealed
  14. The Restoration
  15. Everlasting
  16. Dawning of a New Day (God Uses Everything for Good)

Order “The Restoration: Joseph, Part Two” HERE.

8.5 Excellent

The second album in Neal Morse’s telling of Joseph, "The Restoration" is not short on musical ideas or guests, running a lengthy 75 minutes to exceed Part One’s 65 minutes. If you enjoyed Part One (The Dreamer) last year, and previous double album "Jesus Christ: The Exorcist," this is right up your alley with plenty of Morse goodness sprinkled throughout. If Biblical tales or broadway productions aren’t your thing, best wait for his next project which can’t be far down the road. 

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 7.5
  • Production 9.5
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