REVIEW: Steve Morse Band – StressFest (1996)

STEVE MORSE BAND – StressFest (1996 BMG)

Steve Morse certainly needs no introduction here.  What’s incredible is that the dude joined Deep Purple in 1994, released a Steve Morse Band album in ’95 (Structural Damage), and then both Deep Purple and SMB albums in 1996.  Even more incredible when you consider that Morse wrote all the material for the SMB albums himself, and co-wrote every track on Purple’s Purpendicular.  The man seems to have no shortage of ideas.

StressFest is another reliable Steve Morse Band album.  Joined by Dave LaRue and Van Romaine once more, the band  created another textured, varied album that skirts multiple genres with jaw-dropping chops.  There are traditional sounding electric blues jams like “Live to Ride”, more delicate moments, blazing guitars, funk, jazz, bluegrass, rock…a little bit of everything.

One cool tune is “4 Minutes To Live”, a soft composition with a “piano part” that is actually Steve playing through a guitar synthesizer.  But don’t let that scare you.  There are plenty of 64th-note thrills and chills, fast picking and deep bends.  Backed with the inventive drums of Romaine and the bouncy bass of LaRue, Morse’s songs are a challenging but rewarding listen.

STRESSFEST_0003What’s especially cool (and reason enough to check out an album like this) is, even though both Deep Purple and the Steve Morse Band are loosely classified as having some sort of relationship with progressive rock and serious musicianship, the music they create is nothing alike.  Morse’s guitar is the foundation of both, but there’s little overlap.  StressFest‘s songs wouldn’t work as a Deep Purple album, even though there are elements of them that could.  Likewise, Deep Purple’s material in general is quite different from the Steve Morse Band.

I remember my parents brought this CD back home to me from Michigan, because you couldn’t get it in Canada, even though it was distributed by a major label.  Sadly, it is still only available on import in Canada.  Bad, Canada!  Bad, bad Canada.

4/5 stars

STRESSFEST_0004

I love the cover art; that does look like a stressful day indeed!

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24 comments

  1. Great review. Steve Morse has been my favorite musician for a long time now. I was first introduced to him through a friend, who is now known as Pastor Richard Hetke. He put an album on cassette for me called Night of the Living Dregs.. by The Dixie Dregs. I was immediately struck by his guitar playing and the overall diversity of the band itself. The Dixie Dregs started a long time love affair with jazz fusion which is forever etched in my musical tastes to this day. The first time i saw him live it was with The Steve Morse Band in Toronto and it felt (to me) like i was watching Jesus Christ himself play guitar. I have seen Morse twice with The Steve Morse Band. Once in a guitar clinic. Twice with Deep Purple.. and got the wonderful opportunity to see the reformed Dixie Dregs in Buffalo. I actually was supposed to see The Steve Morse band open for Kansas once at a now defunct bar called Lulu’s .. but I thought.. hey .. opening slot, he might get 45 minutes tops.. so i didnt go. Imagine my horror when i found out after that he played THE WHOLE SET with Kansas as well…. Major mistake of course .. But i digress….

    Stressfest is not one of Morse’s better albums in my opinion. Now that being said, “subpar” Steve Morse (still a great album though) is like ho hum pizza. Still tastier than most things for the pallet. This being his 5th solo release, I believe his strongest albums are his 2nd, 3rd and 4th albums (High Tension Wires, Southern Steel and Coast to Coast). Steve Morse has a way of being the smartest guy in the room and the guy with the biggest heart. True feel and dexterity in a package I believe is second to none.

    If I were to recommend a Steve Morse album as an initiation? I would have to choose his 3rd release titled Southern Steel. Its kind of like… Joe Satriani with less wankering, more melody and much better songwriting.

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    1. Ok.. sorry. I must correct my blatant misinformation. Stressfest is actually his 7TH solo release. I was totally forgetting TWO of his albums while writing my comment. Maybe I should wake up before i start commenting on these things. LOL. So to amend my recommendation… his 3rd, 4th and 5th releases (High Tension Wires, Southern Steel and Coast to Coast) are where i would start. If Gorilla Monsoon were still alive he would have referred to me as he did Bobby The Brain Heenan.. as the Fountain of Misinformation. Shame on Meat

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  2. This is my favorite track ever of Steve Morse. Recorded live last year on the G3 tour. It is on the aforementioned Southern Steel. You have everything in this track. Dynamic … melody… shredding … and watching Morse play you see the passion in every note. Enjoy.

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  3. couldnt resist. This is truly the track that sold me on Steve Morse. Amazing guitar track from the Dixie Dregs in the 70;s… The Bash . And if you have a good eye? Yes .. that is Rod Morgenstein on drums from the immortal Winger!!

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      1. While I am very glad that Rod Morgenstein got his well-deserved payday … and I am sure his fill of young overly-sexual Metal girls … gotta call a spade a spade. Winger is hot garbage any way you want to spin it. Obviously he could not record a full album without including some sort of drum brilliance .. But Winger sucks more ass than the cast of Human Centipede .. and Human Centipede 2!!!

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        1. BWAHAHAHAH!

          I’m gonna fuckin’ request some Winger for next year’s Sausagefest. “Headed For A Heartbreak”.

          No, seriously — if you listen to Winger and isolate the drum tracks, they’re incredible. Not recorded very well but that’s the 80’s.

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  4. I have this album one of the reps gave it to me when I worked at Tower Records. Haven’t listened to it in years. My vague recollection is the production was not the best….I will dig it up again! I did however really like Purpendicular.

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  5. Perpendicular is still by far my favorite Purple album with Morse. Honestly its up their for me in my favorite overall Deep Purple albums of any era. And funny what Mike says in his review of Morse having endless ideas. It should be noted that also in 1994 he wrote the Dixie Dregs reformation album called Full Circle. The Dregs were touring that album when i saw them start that tour in Buffalo. Funny too… that was the first time i ever heard Dream Theater, which was playing over the sound system before The Dregs went on. And funny enough, keyboardist T Lavitz was replaced later in that tour by a young relatively unknown keyboardist by the name of Jordan Rudess. Pardon the pun but its interesting how things come “Full Circle” ;)

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    1. Very nice Meat Man. I knew Jordan Rudess was in Dixie Dregs at some point, I wasn’t clear on when. Cool!

      And of course between this and Dream Theater, he recorded one incredible album with Liquid Tension Experiment.

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  6. Cool review. Makes me want to hear this. Do you have any other Morse albums? I have everything he did with The Dixie Dregs and several of his early solo albums, but stopped buying his stuff shortly before this album came out. Not sure why, because I love everything of his that I own.

    FYI, did you know that LaRue & Romaine played in a prog-jazz-fusion band called Stretch in the late 80s? I saw them a couple of times at my college (Rutgers) and was thrilled to see them become Morse’s backing band. Brilliant musicians. I have what I believe is the only Stretch LP which I haven’t played in years. I need to give that a spin soon. There have been other bands using the same name, but to me this was the “real” Stretch.

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    1. I only have a few other Morse things, Dixie Dregs and some other things he’s appeared on.

      I had no idea about Stretch! Sounds like I might have to look into this band.

      Great quote from Ritchie Blackmore: Shortly after Morse joined Deep Purple, Blackmore did a rare interview with one of the guitar magazines. They asked him what he thought of his replacement in Deep Purple, and he said, “The first time I heard Steve Morse play, I got a bottle of wine, drank it, and felt depressed because he was so good.”

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  7. Check out the live Winger album from a few yrs back,there’s some good playing on there.
    I can’t listen to the Winger debut but the songs come across good live …

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  8. Actually the last Winger album I bought was In Heart Of The Young back in 90 I believe. My bro bought the third one Pull I think it’s called ,but yeah the live album is quite good ,they also put it out on DVD as well…they come across much better live….

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    1. Wow lots of comments to go through!

      It’s also noteworthy that Morse does even more than this — he’s known for his guest appearances as well. He did several tracks on an Ian Gillan solo album 10 years ago for example.

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