Steve Morse

Split Decision

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In a world where many brilliant guitarists keep trying to smooth out to get more airplay, it's reassuring to know that there's still room for wild, jamming, and magnificently noisy projects whose tough-minded edges guitar students can drool over. The Dixie Dregs founder who has won "Best Overall Guitarist" by Guitar Player's reader's poll five times -- and has received six Grammy nominations -- does an unabashedly energetic turn here with his buddies Dave LaRue (bass) and Van Romaine (drums). There's a bit of the Dregs in the spirit of the opening heavy "Heightened Awareness," beginning with the crunchy rock guitar climbing over a throbbing bassline; Morse then expands the distortion before reining in and creating a challenging duality with LaRue. Morse is a big Bach fan, and he uses the classical composer's Brandenburg Concerto as a springboard of inspiration for the innovative ideas behind the brief but sizzling "Busybodies." "Marching Orders" once again counterpoints the guitar and bass in unique fashion, and adds to its improvisations some crunching chords that recall some of the '80s best corporate rock. "Mechanical Frenzy" offers up a little of the Led Zeppelin vibe, mixing roaring passages with speedy melodic lines that end in potent exclamation marks of big drum fills and crazy distortion. For those with delicate ears, there's a pretty melody easily discerned behind the monster Wall of Sound on "Great Mountain Spirits." Morse relaxes to the point of smooth jazziness on "Moment's Comfort" and "Clear Memories," which show that he's also interested in lush melodies (even acoustic-oriented ones) in addition to just going nuts all the time. The flow of the disc moves from hardcore shedding to a cooler prevailing spirit by the end.

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