By Rob Hughes
Albums like this are almost review proof. You’re either down with this kind of instrumental classic rock or you’re not, and no argument from some pasty-faced writer is going to convince or dissuade you. There’s a built-in audience of old-school musos and prog heads who’ll dig Out Standing in Their Field (you know who you are), while everybody else will be looking for darker, more cutting-edge noise. Not that The Steve Morse Band would ever intend to polarize listeners. Their music is eager to entertain and impress, and I can’t imagine anyone actually being offended by such harmless fun, unless you have a deep loathing for bass solos.
You may know Morse from such groups as The Dixie Dregs (whose jazz-rock-bluegrass fusion still sounds fresh) and Deep Purple Marks VII and VIII. He’s capable of mind-blowing feats on the guitar, but, bless him, his tasteful approach to composition and playing lifts him above and beyond the “shredder” pack. It’s a given that this album is well performed, composed, and produced. Morse has nothing to prove, and his band—which has had a stable line-up for over 20 years—makes everything flow with ease.
Out Standing… doesn’t appear to have an overall concept, unlike Morse’s two Major Impacts releases, where he composed music “in the style of” influences like Zeppelin and Jeff Beck. The album is an opportunity for the band to explore different styles—hard rocking on opener “Name Dropping,” regal ‘n’ reflective (“Here and Now and Then”), countrified on the barn-storming, speed picking “John Deere Letter,” and dignified on the classical acoustic showcase “Baroque ‘N Dreams.”
The best part is how natural this all sounds. The band doesn’t try to be trendy. You won’t hear any misguided stabs at nü-metal or techno; only a trio of dudes and their respective endorsement deals doing what they do damn well, and having a good time at it (while concocting some of the corniest titles this side of a Skyclad album). The Steve Morse Band delivers flash with class.