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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Steve Morse Paints Sonic Pictures With His Guitar

June 27, 1989|JIM WASHBURN

For a man with three separate careers, Steve Morse seems to have things wired pretty tight: He keeps a small farm running at a time when many don't; if he had flubbed while wearing his commercial jet pilot's hat, we probably would have seen the photos in the news, and his Sunday night Coach House show amply displayed that the former Dixie Dregs front man still gets around on a guitar neck better than most rock-based players.

With his other incomes, Morse has been able to pursue a decidedly non-commercial musical direction. The all-instrumental compositions of his current "High Tension Wires" album are far too boisterous to make it on jazz or new-age radio formats, and too complex and varied to pop up much anywhere else on the dial.

Given that limited exposure, the time occupied by his other pursuits (Morse recently told an interviewer that the only guitar practice he got while working as a pilot was on the commute to the airport--he would steer with his knees), and a couple of years wasted in Kansas (the band), it's a testament to Morse's music that he can still pack a club.

Although far less in the limelight than technique monsters Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen and even the reclusive Allan Holdsworth (who was in the crowd Sunday checking Morse out), Morse is no less of a player, and is more in some cases.

He is possessed of staggering chops and an effortless command of electronic effects and guitar-synthesizer patches (his effects rack could rival a Boeing cockpit). But Morse's strong suit is the invention and light touch he brings to his playing.

On "Odyssey" he worked incredibly dexterous speed runs over shifting musical landscapes, kicking his fingers into an even higher gear on the playfully entitled "Tumeni Notes." "Highland Wedding" found him finessing Celtic sonorities and glottal bagpipe chokes from his guitar. On "Ice Cakes" he jumped from clean country finger picking to choppy metal rhythms.

And throughout, the warp-speed playing and ever-shifting sonic textures never seemed gratuitous. Rather, Morse used this varied palette to get across some intelligent, well-crafted sound paintings.

The only portion of the show where flash overwhelmed content was on the encore "Cruise Control," when Morse and sidemen bassist Dave LaRue and drummer Van Romaine were joined by former Dregs keyboardist T Lavitz (who also opened the show) for an over-the-top romp. It was a worthy excess, veering from a drum solo to a lush guitar-synthesized string section to a chomping note-for-note replication of the middle break of Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused."

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