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Steve Morse Band - Split Decision CD (album) cover


Steve Morse Band

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5 stars Even by Steve Morse standards, "Split Decision" is an impressive guitar album -- and that's high praise.

If it were possible for one thing to be more unique than others, Steve Morse would certainly have a more unique guitar voice than almost anybody else out there. He's a staggeringly gifted player with a seemingly endless technical range --his style fuses rock, pop, blues, country, folk, jazz, classical, and more-- and a harmonic/melodic sense that sounds like nobody else. As a founding member of the legendary Dixie Dregs, as a solo artist, and as a member of classic bands like Kansas and Deep Purple, Morse has established himself as an astonishing talent. "Split Decision" is a worthy showcase for his gifts, with all three players on the instrumental set --Morse on guitar, Dave LaRue on bass, and Van Romaine on drums-- turning in emotional, consistently dazzling performances.

The stated concept for the album is that the beginning (first 7 tracks) would be more heavy/upbeat, and the end (last 5 tracks) would be more mellow. Nonetheless, listeners don't get a nonstop metallic blaze at the outset. With the spacious, sophisticated playing of Morse and LaRue, the songs come close to outright balladry in places; and even when the group plays hard, they're not afraid to leave space for atmosphere in their performances. As a result, the first tracks are dynamic and expressive in their energy, but not especially heavy or uptempo. Sure, there are some screamers (the chugging "Mechanical Frenzy" is a standout), but some have a middle-of-the-road feel by Dixie Dregs standards, like the classical-influenced sweetness of "Busybodies" and the beautiful sections of "Heightened Awareness" and "Marching Orders."

As advertised, the real ballads start later, and as gorgeous as "Heightened Awareness" (track 1) was, "Moment's Comfort" (track 8) is even more so; other highlights from the mellow side include the sweet "Clear Memories" and the lightly folk-funky "Back Porch." Even more impressively, the shift from rockers to ballads doesn't destroy the coherence or energy of the album; the beautiful instrumental voices of Morse and his band keep the set unified and strong.

All Morse albums can be counted on for sizzling performances; on "Split Decision," the songwriting rises to match, and fans of instrumental rock could hardly hope for more. With its instantly engaging melodies and enduringly impacting musical depth, "Split Decision" is enormously rewarding for any open-minded fan of instrumental music (rock, jazz, prog, whatever). For newcomers to Morse, it is well worth repeated listens, and for longtime fans, it might not leave your CD player for quite some time.

Report this review (#11049)
Posted Tuesday, July 6, 2004 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars Despite the fact that I love Steve Morse's music, both his compositions and guitar playing, this album just misses the mark with me. I've listened to it over and over and it just doesn't do much for me. Sure there are a few great tunes. Busybodies and Mechanical Frenzy are excellent, complex works. But the rest just doesn't quite seem to be up to the band's usual standards.

The first part of the album, according to the liner notes, is "heavier", band oriented songs. And it's nice. The two songs mentioned above are great works of prog fusion, the former mixing in some baroque classical as well. But the rest of the "heavy" songs are just okay.

The last five songs are more mellow. And again, Morse can make the worst material sound good. But that's just it. These songs are only good. Morse music is usually great.

So while this is not a bad album, I wouldn't call it essential. It's one of the last Morse albums I'd recommend.

Report this review (#294670)
Posted Sunday, August 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars I agree with most music fans out there that Steve Morse is a great guitarist. I've heard his playing on many albums including his solo debut, his earlier work with THE DIXIE DREGS and later stuff with KANSAS and DEEP PURPLE but i've just never been too a big a fan of the music from these recordings except for "What If" by THE DIXIE DREGS and his work on a RUSH tribute album I own called "Working Man". So it came as a huge surprise when I first listened to this album at how heavy it was at times and also how emotional it was but mostly at how great the songs were.This blew me away. My respect for Steve just went through the roof as I listened to his amazing performance throughout. Dave LaRue on bass is in your face almost all the time and he adds so much here. Steve says he named this album "Split Decision" because he had these heavy band tracks he wanted on here but also these more acoustic songs, so we 7 heavy and 5 acoustic giving the heavy side the split decision. Or something like that.

"Heightened Awareness" opens with guitar as the bass comes in throbbing then it turns heavy. Nice. Contrasts continue.This is great ! Morse is putting on a show. "Busybodies" is fairly uptempo and has a classical flavour to it. I'm really impressed with the guitar here and the bass is prominant. "Marching Orders" turns heavy quickly and we get some aggressive guitar before 2 1/2 minutes and a minute later as well. Morse sounds so good here. "Mechanical Frenzy" has this ripping guitar intro then the bass shakes the soundscape with some deep grooves. So good. It settles back before 2 1/2 minutes as LaRue puts on a show.Mores then comes in lighting it up. Killer stuff. "Great Mountain Spirits" has a good heavy beat with some atmosphere. Great sound. Heavy guitar comes in.This is nasty. Love the guitar before 4 minutes to end it.

"Majorly Up" is a good uptempo track and I like the gutar/bass section 2 minutes in. "Gentle Flowers" is beautifully pastoral early on then it turns surprisingly aggressive before 1 1/2 minutes. An all out assault before 4 minutes. Check out the bass that follows.The next five tracks are mostly acoustic. "Moment's Comfort" is laid back, gorgeous and emotional. "Clear Memories" features strummed guitar, bass and drums.There's a depth here, a rich beautiful sound. "Midnight Daydream" has some intricate acoustic guitar reminding me so much of POPOL VUH. "Back Porch" has this deep rumbling bass with drums as the guitar plays over top. "Natural Flow" is an uplifting and pleasant closer.

No wonder this is the highest rated solo Steve Morse album on the the RYM site. I kept waiting for the Country / honky tonk / Southern Rock style to rear it's ugly head but it never did.Thankyou ! Now i'm excited to hear the new album that Morse, LaRue, Portnoy and Neal Morse are working on.

Report this review (#380576)
Posted Saturday, January 15, 2011 | Review Permalink

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