Neal Morse finds inspiration from an unlikely place

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is a book that might inspire many things.

It might inspire your faith. It might inspire you to take a spiritual journey.

However, one thing you might not expect the 17th century Christian allegory to inspire is to write a nearly two hour long prog rock album.

However, the Neal Morse Band’s latest release, “The Similitude of A Dream,” is built on the foundation of that 1678 piece of English literature.

Morse, calling from Nashville, agreed that “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is not a piece of art that lends itself to a conversion into a concept rock album.

Morse also admitted the idea wasn’t initially his.

Someone reached out to Morse via the web. They told Morse, why don’t you write a concept album around the story of “The Pilgrim’s Progress?”

“The entire book is presented as a dream sequence narrated by an omniscient narrator,” explains its entry in Wikipedia. “The allegory’s protagonist, Christian, is an everyman character, and the plot centers on his journey from his hometown, the ‘City of Destruction’ (‘this world’), to the ‘Celestial City’ (‘that which is to come’: Heaven) atop Mount Zion.”

Morse, who had been the lead singer of Spock’s Beard before leaving that entity when he became a born again Christian, said he had never read “The Pilgrim’s Progress” prior to the suggestion. At face, he said, it didn’t seem a likely candidate for a concept album.

But, he said, he decided to give the book a fighting chance.

Once Morse read the synopsis of the story, he surprised himself. He said ideas for songs began to pour out of his hands and mouth. The book’s tale spoke to him.

That said, although he was inspired, he didn’t know if the rest of the Neal Morse Band—which is drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Randy George, keyboardist Bill Hubauer and guitarist Eric Gillette—would feel the same way.

However, the book resonated with them as well, said Morse. And the process began to pull together what became “The Similitude of a Dream” with all the members joining in and contributing ideas.

Lyrically, Morse said, some of the words he wrote were direct lifts from the original “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” Some of the lyrics were deviations on the original to help them scan and sound better with music. He also shaped some of the stories based on his own experiences and imagination.

However, he said many of the characters were taken directly from the book.

Although the band was inspired by the book, Morse said the album is about more than demonstrating the band’s skill at adapting the tale to music. The band also wanted to inspire their audience.

What he likes about “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” said Morse, is that it teaches you “that our journey with God is not a one shot deal. It is a journey with peaks and valleys and challenges.”

“It’s encouraging to know that wherever you are, there’s a next step. We’re not completed and we’re not depleted,” said Morse.

When The Neal Morse Band comes to Connecticut, they will play “The Similitude of a Dream” in its entirety.

“Right away when we wrote it we knew we’d play it from beginning to end,” said Morse. “It’s a hundred minute piece of art, a piece of musical theater,” said Morse. “It’s best taken in one sitting.”

Thus, most of the evening in Connecticut will be directed toward the new album. Past material from the band or efforts from the band members’ previous band (some of the members come from Dream Theater. Morse was in Spock’s Beard) will not be part of the main set list.

“The only surprise is what we do for an encore,” said Morse.

The Ridgefield Playhouse is a small space and Morse said he appreciates playing in intimate settings such as the old converted school auditorium.

“I very often go into the audience,” said Morse. “I like being with the people. Being together is what is so good about the live music experience.”

The Neal Morse Band performs at the Ridgefield Playhouse, 80 East Ridge, Ridgefield on Friday, Aug. 25 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $45. For more information, go to www.RidgefieldPlayhouse.com

The Neal Morse Band comes to the Ridgefield Playhouse on Friday.