Instrumental rock albums can be tedious, take-'em-or-leave-'em projects that seldom do more than showcase a given artist's talents - usually magnified 10 times. But Magna Carta, a small New York City-based label, has quietly been releasing quality instrumental albums for years under names like Liquid Tension Experiment, Attention Deficit, Niacin and Bozzio Levin Stevens. The three-piece Steve Morse Band is no exception. And, in this case, the label even suggested that the renowned guitarist from Dixie Dregs, Kansas and Deep Purple make a record that defies genre categorization - and hence, commercial appeal.
Thus comes the aptly titled Split Decision. Like its predecessor, 2000's critically acclaimed Major Impacts, this one follows a theme of sorts by stacking all of the heavier songs at the front of the disc, and balancing out the back half with more mellow and acoustic pieces. The result is a dozen songs playing out like a series of sonically superior tunes that span the entire spectrum of your speakers. The song titles - "Heightened Awareness," "Marching Orders," "Great Mountain Spirits" and "Back Porch" - evoke just as many moods, colors and layers as the songs themselves. Morse summons Celtic, fusion and classical elements, blending them with his own trademark rock style to create a memorable 53 minutes.
Many of these tracks, especially the heavier ones, are built around the interplay between Morse's guitar and Dave LaRue's bass, with Van Romaine's intricate drumming playing an integral role. Highlights include "Busybodies," a two-and-a-half-minute piece that Morse says is inspired by Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto;" "Mechanical Frenzy," a high-powered tune that combines power-metal riffs with a Zeppelinesque bounce; and "Clear Memories," an experimental acoustic track that is perhaps the most melodic piece of music Morse has ever laid down. In short, nothing here sounds redundant or contrived, tired or half-ass. Quite the contrary, actually. Split Decision allows Morse (and his band) to display more than one identity, firmly positioning the guitarist once and for all in instrumental rock's upper echelon.