STEVE MORSE WITH THE DIXIE DREGS
Major Impacts
Magna Carta Records
Keswick Theater, Glenside, PA

Aside from Warren Hayes (Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule) there is only one other guitarist that could play a supporting role in his own band: Steve Morse. His first claim to fame was as a member of the jazz, rock, classical, bluegrass, cult band Dixie Dregs. He also spent time in the ranks of Kansas and Deep Purple as well as produced an array of prolific albums under his own Steve Morse Band. This summer’s release, Major Impacts, defines what brought Morse to his pinnacle.

“I’d have to say that this record has been one of the most captivating things I’ve ever done,” says Morse in his press release. “The concept was for me to write music that reflected the styles of some of the musicians that had influenced me. The challenges were there. Like trying to give the impression of a guitarist in a vocal band with an original piece of music that doesn’t use lyrics.”

For some, the detailed exploration into one’s influences can result in a convoluted expression of bad taste. But with Morse the effect is quite elegant. With song titles like Derailleur Gears, TruthOla and Something Gently Weeps, Morse doesn’t hide where he’s coming from. The album’s broad sweeping texture flows from a Roger McGuinn guitar style in Migration to the heavy handed Leslie West-inspired Bring It To Me.

In step with his exploration of the progressive jam he introduces Free In The Park (a nod to The Allman Brothers) and Prognosis (a fusion of both Yes and Kansas.) The project proved to be a rewarding challenge, but the test response of a live audience was what Morse was looking for the night the lights dimmed at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA.

Rhythm section Dave LaRue (b) and Van Romaine (d) joined Morse as they kicked into Led On, a gorgeous celebration of Zeppelin’s innovative structuring and melodic attributes. The tune packed all the Zep essentials from chunky metal riffs and crisp solos to Middle Eastern and Moroccan flavors, and it was the only number featured from his new release. The rest of the set was a complex array of key moments from the seven-album Morse back catalogue. Sleaze Factor and Vista Grande were pulled from Southern Steel (1991) while Highland Wedding was taken from High Tension Wires (1989). Representing Structural Damage (1995) was Good To Go and closing the set were Rising Power and StressFest, both from the 1996 Morse Band disc, StressFest. Morse is exhilarating to watch, stalking the stage and passionately letting the guitar carry him from moment to moment.

After a brief intermission the Dixie Dregs walked out under the lights. Morse, LaRue, and Romaine were joined by drummer Rod Morgenstein (who looks much more comfortable with the Dregs than his leather-clad self in Winger), violinist Allen Sloan, and keyboard wiz T. Lavitz. All in hot pursuit of their current recording California Scream.

What made this marathon performance all the more astounding is that Morse played all night with a broken left hand incased in a cast – and didn’t miss a note.

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Steve Morse