Neal Morse – The Dreamer, Joseph: Part One (Album Review)

Review of the Neal Morse album ‘The Dreamer, Joseph: Part One’

by Prog Nick

With Morsefest 2023 fast approaching, the minds of Progressive Rock fans are once again filled with all things Neal Morse. Not the least of the latest cornucopia from the Maestro is his 2023 solo record ‘The Dreamer, Joseph Part 1’, which is being released this week.

It goes without saying that the new release is an album with a deep religious theme. More than that, the album is a full on Rock Opera in keeping with ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ and Morse’s own ‘Jesus Christ the Exorcist’. The latter title was released in 2019 by Frontiers Music, and one believes that it must have been a commercial success, because the label has asked Morse for a follow-up, hence the release of ‘The Dreamer’.

The album tells the story of Joseph (the father of the Israelite Tribe of Joseph) as told by the Bible in the Book of Genesis. The essence of the story is that Joseph’s brothers vindictively sell him into slavery in Egypt where, after correctly interpreting the dreams of the Pharoah, Joseph is released to lead his Tribe into freedom. This is a detailed and elaborate story, and Morse has crafted a huge rock opera around it in two parts. Let us consider Part One.

As one of Neal Morse’s biggest fans, it is hard for me not to declare that I love absolutely everything this man releases. After all, he changed the Prog landscape forever. But truth be told, I am not one of those that found infinite gratification in ‘Jesus Christ the Exorcist’. I have the album, I witnessed its only live performance at Morsefest (in complete awe), and I certainly like it, but the truth is that I have seldom returned to ‘JCTE’ for repeated listens. There is nothing at all bad about it – I just find so much else in Morse’s catalogue that is more compelling to revisit. ‘JCTE’ was for me, then, not a grower, but ‘The Dreamer’ is different.

The new album, whilst never unimpressive, did not threaten to make any ‘Best Of’ list for me on first listen. But as I played and re-played the album for purposes of this review, things changed, and by the seventh or eighth spin, I was declaring this album’s excellence, song by song. Morse has an astounding proclivity for making life-changing music – only sometimes it takes a little work on the part of the listener for that to be revealed. This is one such album. It is not that the record is overly complex (by Morse’s standards) or that there is some other mysterious Progressive Rock magic behind its delayed gratification. The simple fact is that these songs just sound better with repeated listens, and I have no idea why. It is a Neal Morse secret.

Of his colleagues in the Neal Morse Band (NMB), only Eric Gillette appears on ‘The Dreamer Part 1’, on drums and guitar, but other collaborators include Ted Leonard (Spock’s Beard), Steve Morse (Flying Colors), Matt Smith (Theocracy), Jake Livgren (Kansas), Talon David and the now de rigueur choirs, orchestras and casts of thousands. Morse himself handles vocals for the main protagonist’s role.

The album opens with the sound of a buzzing desert fly that cleverly turns into a strings-based drone, kicking off ‘The Dreamer Overture’. Those who know Morse’s concept work from 2002’s masterpiece ‘Snow’ through the remarkable ‘Similitude of a Dream’, to ‘JCTE’, will know that the overtures to Morse’s concept albums have become a fan-club talking point. They are elaborate, considered and powerful, yet somehow different every time and they are anticipated with much zeal. This overture is no exception, setting the scene with myriad musical themes and instrumental flavors including real strings, brass, tympani, a Hammond solo, gongs, false stops and starts and everything else you can think of in between. With oodles of bombast and huge production, one can imagine this overture being performed by a massive cast at a future Morsefest. It will undoubtedly fill the room if and when that happens, and then some.

It is not long before ‘Prologue-Before the World’ introduces Morse’s familiar warm voice, and it is with this, really, that all becomes well in the world of Prog music again. It is a slow and powerful piece that builds into an anthem, and it keeps good company with Morse’s best and saddest ballads ever. His Flying Colors bandmate, the legendary Steve Morse, adds a blistering solo near the end of the track that elevates the track as only he can.

The track then gives way to the upbeat ‘A Million Miles Away’, a spicy and funky acoustic rocker with the ever-present choir providing a massive foundation under Morse’s voice. ‘Burns Like a Wheel’ introduces the unmistakable voices of Ted Leonard and Matt Smith and the resulting vocal brilliance is palpable. It is at this point that the album starts to walk that unavoidable tightrope between studio concept album and theatrical musical production, but this should not deter you, since the vocalists are astoundingly good and the music never loses its quality, even if you are not a fan of musicals. This fact is revealed with repeated listens.

‘Liar Liar’ is Neal Morse at his best. Filled with power, huge harmonies and all sorts of musical hues that harken back to the main theme, this song is a reminder of just how much Morse changed our lives with Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, NMB and his solo albums. It is all there – just give it a few spins. By the time Joseph’s brothers have decided to throw him in ‘The Pit’, it once again becomes apparent how adept Morse is (regardless of his own increased role as singer on this album) at writing music suited to many varied vocal ranges. A true composer he is, because he knows just how to pitch an arrangement in the range of the intended voice, and this allows the performers to rise to the occasion with aplomb.

There is quite a bit of straight-ahead rock on the album, but it is all executed with Neal Morse’s definitive personal twist. One glorious example of this is ‘Like a Wall’, which truly rocks like a melodic hurricane, and one can imagine that it will become a must for NMB to adapt this one to fit into the set of a future tour. No-one writes a melodic Rock hook like Neal Morse. ‘Gold Dust City’ is another (mid-tempo) rocker that allows the wonderful Jake Livgren to excel in the role of the Slave Driver and Talon David is not far behind in ‘Slave Boy’. The latter is a silky, wah-wah driven slow rocker that will blow you away on (this time) the first listen, as will the strings-backed ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind.’ The temperature is lowered somewhat with ‘Wait On You’ (until Eric Gillette is unleashed on an ascendant lead solo that is,) and ‘I Will Wait On The Lord’, featuring a cloistral-sounding children’s choir, no doubt conducted by Morse. The latter was the only track that did not ‘grow’ on me, but it is, after all, a solemn, monastic choral piece that is somewhat experimental, even for Morse.

‘Overture Reprise’ brings back the frenzied Prog in a big way, and then a fabulous high point is reached with ‘Ultraviolet Dreams’. This track is a lazy, hazy but heavy blues-rock mirage that reminds us that no matter what direction Morse takes, he always brings an extra layer of class and excellence to the music. Even to the Blues. (During the verse of this track, the lyric ‘I’ll embrace the great nothing’ will undoubtedly resonate with older fans.) ‘Heaven In Charge Of Hell’ is another pinnacle, featuring grandiose catchy hooks the likes of which only Morse can deliver, around a huge orchestral intro and great sax and guitar solos. The album ends with the lonely trumpet and closing gong of ‘Why Have You Forsaken Me?’ – an intentionally cinematic cliff-hanger that immediately makes the listener wonder how ‘Part Two’ will kick off.

The following has to be said to all those who are Progressive Rock fans but deny themselves Neal Morse’s music because it sometimes has an overtly religious theme: Please, give it another go – not to do so would be a disservice to yourself. Even if you object to religious lyrics or themes, you cannot, as a Melodic Prog fan, help but love this music. A few listens will reveal to you that it does not really need to matter what Morse is singing about. When this man composes and delivers music, something special happens, every single time, and the music speaks for itself. To those on the other hand, who are not averse to embracing a grand biblical theme, welcome home – you will undoubtedly grow to love this.

One of the greatest composers of our time, Neal Morse never fails to deliver, and ‘The Dreamer, Joseph Part 1’ is no exception, even if it might take a few spins to get there. This album is absolutely worthy of those spins and your general attention, whether you are a long-standing fan or not. Whilst some believe that Morse repeats himself a little from time to time, perhaps the odd re-visitation of musical ideas is not such a bad thing when it is of moments of such intensely high quality. This intricate story is interwoven with, and animated by, top-drawer music that will generally enthrall Proggers and melodic rockers alike. Whilst there are no long epics (in the Morse/Spock’s Beard sense), there most certainly are many variations, odd time signatures, brimming melodies, passages of massive power, harmonies from Heaven and, quite simply, great songs. As for the production, from each gong crash to every sax and guitar solo, it is just gargantuan. “The Dreamer – Joseph: Part One” has all the ingredients you would demand from a Neal Morse Progressive Rock album.

Released on August 11, 2023 on Frontiers Records

Prologue/Before The World Was
A Million Miles Away
Burns Like A Wheel
Liar, Liar
The Pit
Like A Wall
Gold Dust City
Slave Boy
Wait On You
I Will Wait On The Lord
Ultra-Violet Dreams
Heaven In Charge Of Hell (Eat ‘Em And Smile)
Why Have You Forsaken Me?


  • Hey, great review here! I was a huge fan and still very much obsessed with JCTE. For reasons people may shy away from Neal’s music, as you mentioned, is actually the reason I started listening. I was completely blown away with JCTE, and it made me visit his entire catalogue, what a great decision that was. Been a faithful fan ever since.

  • I don’t have a religious bone in my body … well, apart from during the football
    season … and I’ve never been dissuaded from NM’s music because of its religious overtones. Some of the songs’ lyrics can make you roll your eyes a bit, that’s all.
    I call NM master of the “epic change.” So many of his songs have a mind-blowing key, tempo or groove change. Looking forward to this one, and it’ll be interesting to hear new music without Mike Portnoy or Randy George being involved. Not that they’re a problem, just that the music has been a little predictable at times.

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