Steve Morse is the guitar virtuoso behind Deep Purple, the Dixie Dregs, and the Steve Morse band. He’s played with Kansas and Triumph, and has a résumé that reaches back into the depths of progressive and southern rock. Major Impacts 2 is the second in a series of works by Morse showcasing the various styles of his influences. But rather than covering actual songs by those artists, each original song on the album is influenced by one of thirteen different bands and their signature styles. It’s a tour of how he got to such a vaulted place in the pantheon of guitarists, and acts as an insight into his playing style and current mind set.
The influences are discussed in the liner notes, but are not linked to individual songs, leaving the listener to guess for themselves which songs are inspired by which artists. I actually really like the album’s concept. It’s very engaging, and much more original than the flood of mediocre tribute cover albums that have come out over the last few years. Some of the influences are really quite eclectic, ranging from Bach to Cajun, which is pretty far a field for someone more associated with stadium rock. I won’t spoil the fun by disclosing which songs are influenced by which artists, but in most cases it is remarkably easy to guess, even without the help of the liner notes.
I will say that some songs really work well - “Wooden Music” develops a nice groove and hits the mark and “Leonard’s Best,” is as pleasing as tearing down a dirt road on sunny Georgia afternoon in spring. But others fall flat, coming off as stale or just too obvious a rip-off. “Tri County Barn Dance” is downright weak, and makes you wonder what Morse was retaining when he was listening to this influence. Even worse, some of them just don’t work at all. “Air on a 6 String” is almost embarrassing.
Though in regards to the album’s concept, the compositions are completely instrumental and the music tends to benefit from the lack of oral reference point, with no lyrics to cue a listener that it’s really not The Who (for instance) that they’re listening to. As you may guess from Morse’s eclectic past, his music is dominated by the grand power cords of 1970s and 80s progressive rock. So there are 70s veins, but there’s no funk to be found. Even so I liked it in a nostalgic sort of way. I found myself longing to hear the originals, partly because those bands and their popular songs are so deeply carved into our collective brain stems, and partly because this fresh take was compelling in a few cases. After listening to the Emerson, Lake and Palmer influenced track I spent the next half an hour rummaging through my basement looking for Brain Salad Surgery, but when I found it the tape was ruined from years of dust and neglect. Maybe there’s a reason why I haven’t heard it in years.
Essentially Steve Morse was able to accomplish in concept what Frank Zappa did so well in his music. So this album comes off like a mediocre Zappa album, but with short songs that don’t get a chance to jam out. It’s good, but not as good as Frank even on an off day. It lacks the humor and the wanton aggression. Still if you like Zappa or you long for the days when progressive rock was played on the radio by FM DJs who were only a hair’s breath away from being fired you’ll likely enjoy this album.
There’s nothing new here, but it’s nothing new from a whole different standpoint.