From: Collin O'Brien  
Subject: SMB "StressFest" review 
Date: Wed, 17 Apr 1996 08:33:16 -0500 

I picked up the new Steve Morse Band CD yesterday. First thoughts after living with it for a day or so:

Track Listing:

  1. StressFest 3:44
  2. Rising Power 3:55
  3. Eyes of a Child 4:29
  4. Nightwalk 4:23
  5. Brave New World 4:20
  6. 4 Minutes to Live 3:50
  7. The Easy Way 5:17
  8. Glad to Be 4:32
  9. Delicate Balance 2:30
  10. Live to Ride 5:47

Same band as the 3 prior albums: Steve Morse - Guitars, Dave LaRue - bass, Van Romaine - drums. All songs were written by Steve, and the album was produced by Steve and Dave.

Thus far I've only listened to it about 3 times through, and I like it more every time. On my initial listen, some of the tracks didn't impress me too much, but now they are beginning to grow on me. I don't know why, but Steve Morse albums sometimes just need to be played LOUD to fully appreciate them. My first listen was on the CD player in my office, and as I didn't particularly want to get thrown from a 13th floor window I thought I'd keep the volume down. Now having listened to it at home a couple of times, I can appreciate it more. I think a lot of the need for volume has to do with getting the full effect of the guitar and bass interplay. Besides, it's just more fun.

Initially I was afraid that Steve wouldn't have had enough time to devote to this album due to DP (when the hell did he find time to write and record it, anyway!?). But these fears were groundless; I never got the impression that any of the tracks were throw-aways or done in a half-hearted fashion.

In general the approach seems to be similar to that of Structural Damage, but with a much heavier edge. It would appear that Jon, Roger, Ian, and Ian have had a bit of an impact on Steve. Nightwalk and Live to Ride in particular sound as if they could be DP tracks (though IG may have a problem with all these instrumentals...:-) ).

StressFest - Very up-tempo, rocky song. Hints of some Celtic and at times slightly country-ish sounding melodies. Some incredible guitar work from Steve; a major arpeggio workout, along the lines of Tumeni Notes off of High Tension Wires.

Rising Power - Melodic, slower track, but with a little bit harder edge than in previous albums. The main riff has an almost bluesy feel, but then transitions into a more typical Steve Morse melody, before moving back to the main riff. Good driving bass rhythm from Dave, and lots of layering from Steve (sounds like the guitar synth got a good workout).

Eyes of a Child - Another mid-tempo track with a very melodic main line. Some of the guitar sound is comparable to the solos on Loosen My Strings or SIFLS (not to imply that it sounds like them; just that the overall idea is similar). Some great articulation and phrasing on Steve's part.

Nightwalk - Very bluesy and funky song, due in part to Dave's bass line. Steve opts for a lot of note bending in places where he might ordinarily have used pinched harmonics. A decent song, but not one that I get overly excited about. It doesn't really seem to go anywhere, and in fact just kind of fades out when you're not expecting it. It's a bit of different song for the SMB, maybe that's why...

Brave New World - This song also has a heavier riff than what you might have found on previous albums. Interesting bass work from Dave, and as usual some great soloing from Steve. The overall rhythm and melody never quite clicked for me, though.

4 Minutes To Live - Kind of a haunting, synth-based backing track that repeats continuously throughout the song, as does Van Romaine's heart beat-like drumming. (No one is credited with playing synth on the album, and it sounds like they just programmed it and let it go. Steve could also have done it with his guitar synth). This serves as a basis for some pretty tasteful work on Steve's part. On the first listen I was expecting there to be a sudden tempo change, but it never happened. The song is listed as 3:50 (and it is), but it feels shorter.

The Easy Way - A nice contrast to the previous song, with what can only be called a hard rock rhythm and amazing bass playing by Dave. On the album as a whole the drums seem to be mixed way down, and it's very apparent here. I would have liked to hear them brought up in the mix, and had Van cut loose a bit more.

Glad To Be - This track is driven more by the melody line, interspersed with (and I hesitate to use the word because of the connotations, but here goes) some grungier-sounding riffing. The melody is typical Steve Morse; it doesn't necessarily hit you right away, but it's still going through your head an hour and a half later.

Delicate Balance - Acoustic duet with Steve and Dave. I suppose it would be "classified" as classical, though to me it's not that straightforward. Maybe "New Age" meets "Classical" meets "Steve Morse". Definitely at least classically-influenced, though. The overall melody is good, and the song is interesting from a technical standpoint. This one hasn't grown on me as much as some others, though.

Live To Ride - Major DP feel on this one. When it first started I thought I'd inadvertently slipped on a Mk II CD. Prabably the most "traditional blues" sounding song I've ever heard Steve play. I just wish he would have let go a bit more.

Favorite tracks: StressFest, Eyes of a Child, 4 Minutes to Live, Glad To Be.

Least favorite: Nightwalk, Live To Ride, Brave New World.

It's strange, looking at this list. My least favorites are those that are probably most DP-like. I don't know; maybe it's that Jon's Hammond is missing and feels like it should be there, or maybe these types of songs don't work as well with Dave and Van.

Cheers, Collin

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