Music

Steve Morse Band: Split Decision

Marshall Bowden

Steve Morse Band

Split Decision

Label: Magna Carta
Amazon
iTunes

Steve Morse is probably best known as guitarist for the Dixie Dregs, an outfit that combined elements of Allman Brothers southern rock with the high-flying histrionics of fusion bands like the Mahavishnu Orchestra. He also played with Kansas and now wields his axe for geezer rockers Deep Purple. When not engaged in other projects, he leads the Steve Morse Band, a powerhouse trio that not only can crunch and shred their way through typical rock material, but also explores elements such as counterpoint and interplay between musicians that is more likely to be associated with jazz groups. Split Decision, SMB's most recent release offers a variety of styles without sacrificing the guitar edge that fans have come to expect.

The opening track, "Heightened Awareness" starts with what could be a Van Halen riff that slowly broadens until it kicks into a melody that highlights the interaction between Morse and bassist Dave LaRue. Fans of Dixie Dregs will be happy with this one, but the sound is leaner, providing each musician with more opportunity to stretch out and interact without bumping into anyone else. "Busybodies" has a baroque sound, and Morse confirms that "This tune is like me saying, 'Yes sir, Herr Bach. You got it right. I'm just a humble student." Classical aspirations aside, the track is inventive and holds the listener's attention with its interplay between the two string maestros, while Van Romaine on drums manages to provide significant commentary and keep the proceedings from ever cooling down.

Split Decision is split between what Morse calls "heavier band type material" and more mellow acoustic work. This seems like a natural way to balance an album, but it's a rather new concept for Morse, who normally makes room for only one or two mellow pieces to break up his more incendiary work. Here the mellow stuff, five tracks worth, is all at the end of the disc, so you get pretty hyped up and then get to float gently back to earth. Tracks like "Marching Orders" and "Great Mountain Spirits", which sports a Led Zeppelin-style riff and some glacial open chords over which Morse soars like a lone plane over the tundra, while not mellow, do provide a certain balance with the more straight ahead, rip-'em-a-new-one jams ("Mechanical Frenzy", "Gentle Flower, Hidden Beast").

When the group hits track eight with "Moment's Comfort", one instantly feels the cooler, more melodic breeze. Here, Morse provides acoustic guitar overdubs that recall layers of Steve Howe. The electric work is also slathered on, creating near-orchestral overdubs and what sounds like a fretless bass melodic line that is exquisite. "Clear Memories" offers an almost Celtic sound (Morse claims to have been recently influenced by Enya and the composer of Riverdance, Bill Whelan). It's one of the weaker tracks on the album, with a melody that's not particularly memorable and a sound that is a little clichéd. No matter, though, the next track, "Midnight Daydream" is beautiful and dreamy, with echoes of Hendrix and Mark Knopfler and some particularly nice drum work from Romaine. This is one you'll remember after only one or two hearings. Rounding out the mellower side of SMB are "Back Porch", with its bluesy acoustic guitar work, and the album's closer, "Natural Flow". "Natural Flow" features some time signature changes, a stately Renaissance-inspired chord progression strummed on a 12-string, and a very nicely done acoustic guitar solo that sounds like Jerry Garcia on an especially sharp day.

"I love to make music . . . with variety" states Morse in his liner notes, and on Split Decision that's just what you get. Listeners willing to flow along with the Steve Morse Band's creative inspiration will be well rewarded with a musical, yet rocking, experience.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image