Steve Morse Band
Out Standing In Their Field
Steve Morse is widely regarded by other guitarists as the best of the rock guitarists, and for many years won the Guitar Player magazine award. Not as flash as the Satrianis and Vais, although he can do that, Morse plays with taste, and a passion for baroque music – he can do classical as happily as rock, country as happily as jazz. It is that variety that makes an instrumental album not induce yawns after 5 minutes, and hopefully have an appeal beyond
other guitarists. Morse’s career includes work with Deep Purple now, as well as several albums with the Dixie Dregs and the Steve Morse Band. With an immense support from bass player Dave LaRue and drummer Van Romaine, this is a tight, perfect collaboration. It will never appeal to a Lady Gaga fan, but to any aficionado of the guitar, it is hard to match. Morse refrains from singing, which is a real plus in his peer group, and the songs are wholly original, raining down Zeppelin grooves and bluegrass along with a lovely Baroque N Dreams (he does seem to love poor to medium puns). If you know a guitar player, this would be a perfect Christmas present.
ACE rating 8/10
Built To Spill
There Is No Enemy
Built To Spill are perhaps the best US band you haven’t heard of. If you took Band of Horses and rocked them up with hypnotically excellent lead guitar and propulsive drumming, you’d be in the right place. In the 1990s, Built To Spill sanitised some of the dirtier indie that was around, and by doing so never achieved the critical acclaim of bands like Pavement. But, their work wonderfully defined how great indie rock could be. Lead man Doug Martsch apparently lived in the studio to make this record, and it is a fantastic addition to their canon. It isn’t the pinnacle of the Built To Spill album collection, but that is no disappointment. The previous album, You In Reverse, had some outstanding moments, but There Is No Enemy is more cohesive – it is more elegant in its attack. Still rangey and jam-like, the guitar is still the predominant instrument, although the lyrics this time around are more direct and open too. If you’re an indie rock fan, you should have a Built To Spill album, and There Is No Enemy is a great place to dive in.
ACE rating 8/10
Christmas In The Heart
The kerfuffle that accompanied the release of Dylan’s 47th album focused more on the comedy element of Dylan doing his thing on some Christmas standards. Unfortunately, voice apart (and on most songs, it could easily be an impersonator), there is no other piece of Dylan in here. It might seem a little bah-humbug to criticise an album whose royalties are going to be donated to Feeding America, a charity that does so much at Christmas time. But really, seen as a piece of work, this is a knock-off, a karaoke-standard Christmas song backing track with Bob putting in an hour’s shift in the studio. No more than that. The charity could have benefited so much more had Dylan even attempted to interpret the songs his way, rather than just starting with a Val Doonican-standard backing. That way, Dylan fans might have been able to put aside their reverence and actually enjoy it.
ACE rating 5/10