My earliest exposure to rock music was the “prog-light” stylings of Styx and their Grand Illusion album. I quickly discovered Kansas and those two bands remain favorites of mine but they gave way to the almighty Dream Theater in the early 90s. This will give a frame of reference for this review, as Innocence and Danger brings everything that makes these three bands so great on so many levels.
The Neal Morse Band is simply one of the most talented bands recording today and they are growing with every release. This one is the apex, let’s just hope and pray they can continue building on this album for many years to come.
There are 10 songs on the album with the shortest being a little over three minutes and the longest epic coming in at thirty-one minutes and change. Not being a concept record, the band has stretched a bit and has written with a stylistic variety not often heard in progressive rock circles.
Do It All Again
This nine-minute opener finds the band at their inspirational, soaring best. The vocal harmonies ring throughout and the Kansas influences are readily apparent.
Bird on a Wire
This is another slice of prog rock heaven. A fat, synthy, DX-7 sounding keyboard lead nails the intro down while Randy George is steadily thumping away on bass. Eric Gillette gets to show off his growing vocal chops on the chorus and about halfway through the song, they transition into an almost Manfred Mann style groove. But being a prog song, they can’t let it stay that way for long and the song come roaring back for its outrageously great finish.
Your Place in the Sun
If Elton John wrote a song for the Beatles and Toto covered it, this is what it would sound like.
Another Story to Tell
The 70s influences shine through again. Another story to tell is a little Supertrampy by way of the fore-mentioned Elton John.
The Way It Had to Be
Eric Gillette channels his inner Gilmore on this doozy of a slow tempo blues masterpiece.
The mood of the album is dialed back even more on this acoustic guitar piece. There are no lyrics, no synth pads, no percussion, nothing but shimmering steel strings.
Not Afraid, Pt.1
Emergence takes us directly into my favorite track on the album. Not Afraid, Pt. 1 is a great sonic sequel to the song “Waterfall” off the first NMB album. It starts with a very 70s folky intro with some wonderful vocal harmonies that weave in and out of the slight instrumentation. The song continues to build until it reaches a gorgeous vocal and instrumental crescendo. The band really kept the song stripped down sonically and it really serves the message and mood of this piece.
Bridge over Troubled Water
NMB brings us a prog version of the Simon & Garfunkel classic.
Not Afraid, Pt. 2
This is the first of two prog epics on the album. Clocking in at over 19 minutes, this song shows why every NMB release is to be anticipated with great fervor. Wow, these guys can prog! I can’t break down the entire song but let’s at least get the comparisons out of the way. This is the spawn of Kansas, Dream Theater, Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer rolled into one fantastic composition. The vocal arrangements are Styxian to the extreme and the instrumentation is world class.
Beyond the Years
Then after the 19-minute goodness of the previous track, NMB throws us the 31-minute “Beyond the Years.” This is the perfect album closer where every musician gets a chance to shine. It takes the moods and feels of the songs from the rest of the album and puts them into a perfect, uplifting finale.
Those are the songs, now let’s dissect what makes the album so great.
Neal Morse has always given us epic, uplifting, and joyous music. In NMB he pulls in the other musicians to help with the compositions, and it shows how each member brings different influences to the writing table. The lyrics are inspirational, poetic and enriching. The arrangements are inventive and yet have the familiar feel of classic prog rock of the past.
Harmonies are perfection. Gillette is really growing as a vocalist and can belt it with the best. They trade lead vocals like the Beatles with all giving a very different feel to their parts.
I would say that a guitar hero was born on this record, but those of us paying attention know how gifted Eric Gillette truly is. And that Neal Morse guy isn’t exactly a slouch. But Gillette, wow, there are a handful of guitarists on planet earth that can hang with this guy. And many of those guitarists are his direct influences. Thank God that he has given this man the ability he has and thank Neal Morse for introducing him to the world.
Randy George is the consummate prog-rock bass player. He is so solid as to be unmovable and that is not a comment about his stage presence.
Neal and Bill Hubauer are having a blast on keys. They know what works and do not deviate from that. They use familiar keyboard sounds and play with great abandoned. Having two keyboardists works well within the context of this band as when Neal is playing rhythm guitar, Bill can fill the sonic void by well placed synth pad and leads.
Two words: Mike Portnoy
Innocence and Danger makes quite a statement. It is accessible for the casual listener but progressive enough for the most ardent prog-rock fan. 2021 has been an amazing year for Christian rock and especially Christian prog. Make a play list of this, PJ Bostic and Trytan and let yourself be blown away.