Split Decision

The Steve Morse Band

A guitarist's guitarist, Steve Morse continues to uncover new layers, texturing each cadence with a sweep of his hand. In between racking up guitar playing honors and jetting around Europe with Deep Purple, Morse still gigs with the Dixie Dregs and leads a band of his own, carrying the appropriate moniker of the Steve Morse Band. Even with everything the guitarist is involved in, almost spellbinding in its scope, he effectively uses his band as an outlet for new ideas. The Steve Morse Band debuted in 1984, but the actual 'band' consisting of bassist Dave LaRue and drummer Van Romaine took off in 1991. With LaRue working alongside Morse as the current bassist for the Dregs, the line sometimes gets blurry. Many of the styles that have made the Dregs such a popular attraction with jazz-rock aficionados are ever present in the Steve Morse Band. But Morse, the consummate musician, occasionally ventures outside the box and spreads his wings a little wider. This began, in stead, with the 1989 solo effort High Tension Wires. Now with LaRue and Romaine in his corner, Steve Morse has taken another step forward with Split Decision.

As the ninth Steve Morse Band album, Split Decision is a sonic textile enriched with lush hues and bountiful colors that express a cohesive chemistry between the three players. But the CD does more than just turn on the prowess behind the musicians. Morse has gone to great lengths to add more dimension, flavoring each and every track with its own distinct flair and aroma. "Heightened Awareness" is prime SMB, sautéed in counterpoint and polyphonic calisthenics. "Busybodies" is an exercise in baronial Bach, a modern day flight as Morse' cascading guitar lines weave through one intricate passage after another. The Zeppelin-like assault of "Mechanical Frenzy" is just another example of the raw power from what many would consider polished musicians. The muscle riffs then become distant memories as the strains of "Great Mountain Spirits" conjure up images of green pastures and morning glory. Together, the reggae vibe of "Majorly Up" and bluesy feel of "Gentle Flower, Hidden Beast" serve as the perfect segue for the band to slow things down a bit and create a more tranquil picture with far broader strokes.

"Moment's Comfort" seamlessly flows with a melancholic bend — but with a lightness that transcends any feelings of woe. "Clear Memories" is in more of a classical mode, with Morse climbing the scales while a dreamy sequence of chords wash against the melody. "Midnight Daydream" is full of Hendrix headiness while still exemplifying Morse' dexterous style. The CD ends with two stark acoustic numbers — "Back Porch" with a country blues bite and "Natural Flow," which, strange as it may seem, sounds exactly like its title, armed with the sort of restraint uncommon for this trio. All of which distinguishes The Steve Morse Band in a sea of impoverished ideas. As a rule, instrumental bands of this sort can often outlive their existence, claiming only a vagary of die-hard fans to keep them working. Morse, who has plied his trade with the likes of Kansas and Deep Purple, knows better than to just dine and dash, so to speak. For 25 years, he has constantly raised the bar and thrown the rulebook out the window. Split Decision confirms that the Steve Morse Band are prepared to face the consequences of their daredevil ways.

~ Shawn Perry

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