I don't think I have to introduce Steve Morse to any progressive rock devotee or even better: to people who like good music. It doesn't matter in which band Morse is playing, Dixie Dregs, Kansas, Deep Purple or Steve Morse Band, he's always true to his own personal recognizable musical style. There was a time I was trying to buy every album he was playing on, but I gave up. This man really is on fire, he has played on so many different albums. Most rock lovers will have an album with Steve on it, I guess.
However, has Steve ever done something like Angelfire? I don't think so, but later on more about the album. First there's someone I would like to introduce to a wider audience: please give a warm welcome to the lovely Sarah Spencer. Who is this pretty lady with the voice of an angel? Sarah started piano lessons at the age of six, at fourteen she was in the cast of a VH1-reality show, which ultimately got cancelled. At sixteen she met Steve Morse and the collaboration of what was to become Angelfire began. Now we all can enjoy the outcome of this magical duo: the album Angelfire.
The result of their cooperation is an album based on Steve's acoustic guitar and Sarah's voice, although Steve occasionally plays electric guitar and keyboards as well. For the bass guitar and the drums, the choice of the instrumentalists was really easy: both Dave LaRue (bass) and Van Romaine (drums) of the Steve Morse Band contributed to the album. When I started to listen my first impression was that Angelfire sounded a bit in the vein of Blackmore's Night, both musically and vocally. Far Gone Now definitely has a touch of the band of the 'man in black', who once was the guitarist of Deep Purple, where Steve Morse is currently playing for already fifteen years. But I have to say Sarah's voice is much clearer and brighter than Candice's. For a single I think Everything To Live For would be very suitable: a soft voice and lyrics that are easy to sing along with. It's just a great song that keeps spinning in the back of my head. Other bands that could have been of any influence in the songwriting process are Mostly Autumn, Robert Plant and Allison Krauss. Some of the songs have a familiar touch as if you already know them, which make the album a very pleasant one to listen to. Feelings Are Overrated, Here Today and Terrible Thing To Loose are some of these songs that make you feel very comfortable. They're still very recognizable, because of the superb guitar playing. Omnis Morse Aequat is a very special sounding song starting with Steve's majestic playing, turning into an almost classical or movie theme epos. Robin Hood would be suitable here. Sarah's vocals turn classical in this one. All the emotions come together in the final chapter of Angelfire. Urban Decay has Sarah Spencer's beautiful voice over the sound of a church organ. It's just a perfect end of an outstanding album.
If you like albums to listen to and relax by with a nice glass of wine, Angelfire is the one for you. Sarah Spencer is a big surprise for me; man, what a beautiful voice she has! And for Steve Morse, yes I know he can play and I really love his electric guitar playing, but on this album you get the other side of him: just contributing to the great songs he has written with Sarah, but still very recognizable. Hats off for Steve Morse; this is an ideal album to spend a winter night with.
From the opening notes of "Far Gone Now," listeners know that they're in for something special. Spencer's voice floats high in the mix like a feather on the wind, Morse's gentle acoustic guitar creating an elegant texture that flies close to meditative new age music territory. By contrast, the lively "Everything To Live For" cleverly mixes ethereal pop with scraps of country and bluegrass in the creation of something else entirely, the full range of Spencer's voice brought to the fore as Morse delivers an eclectic backing soundtrack.
Much of the rest of Angelfire follows a similar tack; Spencer's angelic vocals put into play on a complex blend of material, from the Celtic-flavored folk-rock of "Get Away" to the baroque pop of "Omnis Morse Aequat," which takes on a spiritual veil with Morse's reverent guitarwork and Spencer's lofty, church-choir vocals. The lovely "Here Today" has Spencer providing her own gorgeous backing vocals, her voice multi-tracked above Morse's filigree classical-style guitar. The lofty "Terrible Thing To Lose" is a multi-textured delight with Spencer's syncopated vocals playing against each other and Morse's guitarplay mixing Oriental strains with jazzy licks.
The old adage "You can't judge a book by its cover", or CD in this case, doesn't ring true with Angelfire. This is mostly introspective acoustic music with inflections of pop, classical, folk, jazz with a little blues thrown into the mix. Morse's acoustic guitar shines throughout and lays a calming backdrop for Spencer's angelic vocals. They complement each other beautifully and its clear this music was written to show off Spencer's excellent voice. Morse plays with grace and restraint; his mellow acoustic rhythms and fluid runs are the vehicle for Spencer's dream-like vocals. Angelfire also includes Steve Morse's band mates Dave LaRue on bass and Van Romaine on drums and percussion.
My personal favourites include the Enya inspired "Omnis Morse Aequat" where Spencer's vocals are like a breath of fresh air, a perfect match for Morse's tasteful acoustic strums and the more upbeat "Take It or Leave It" with its jangly pop accents and an inspired electric solo from Morse that is subtle and tasteful, never straying too far from the overall folky atmosphere the CD conveys.
Anyone who likes acoustic music should find plenty to like on Angelfire. At only twenty-two years of age Spencer has a bright future and what better way to show off her talents than to team up with the classy Mr. Morse. Whether or not Angelfire is a commercial success only time will tell but I think both can be proud of this album.
Angelfire is a collaborative effort between guitar legend and songwriter Steve Morse (Deep Purple, The Dixie Dregs, The Steve Morse Band) and singer/songwriter Sarah Spencer.
This record could almost be labeled folk/fusion with its light and airy melodies but folk undertone. It has its fair share of “catchy” songs that the pro quo listener will enjoy, but its also full of depth and simplicity. A combination that is rarely found these days in modern music.
Spencer is the clear star and feature of this record, which is saying a lot when you find out who’s backing her musically. On bass, we have our friend Dave LaRue and on drums features the amazing Van Romaine. That’s an all-star lineup that most musicians can only dream of jamming with. And if you’re a musician and don’t know who either one of those players are, well…let me be the first to welcome you to Earth. Go here: www.google.com
The songwriting, production and obviously musicianship are all brilliant. You’d have to try and find something to complain about.
It's easy to hear why Morse became so captivated by Sarah's voice, as the clarity and tone she possesses is mightily impressive, although her Patty Smyth meets Sarah McLachlan with more than a hint of Enya delivery can become slightly one dimensional at times. That said the beautiful relaxing acoustic sounds Morse creates is the perfect setting to show this young lady at her best. The likes of "Here Today" and "Feelings Are Overrated" are wonderfully laid back acoustic ballads and if that description sounds interesting to you, then I doubt you will find a better album this year. For many though, the whole concept of this disc will be just too tame and with so much focus on the vocals throughout this album, those hoping to hear Morse at his dextrous best may well be slightly disappointed. That is not to suggest that his playing in Angelfire is anything short of fantastic and I'm sure he has achieved exactly what he set out to with this project, it's just that some fans of his work would possibly prefer more Morse for their money.
This summer sees the release of Angelfire, a collaboration with the now 22-year old Sarah Spencer, a young lady with an incredibly pure, almost innocent voice. Together she and Morse have laid down 11 tracks of lush, intelligent pop music with aspirations to something more. On Angelfire, Morse and Spencer are joined by a pair of musicians that should be quite familiar to Morse fans and proggers in general. Bassist Dave La Rue has worked with Morse on countless albums through the years. Van Romaine, likewise, has been a long time collaborator with Morse on drums and percussion, and these years of service have allowed these musicians to play varying styles of music with almost telepathic skill. One might be tempted to say that they’re almost under-utilised on this material, but their ability to lay back and play for the songs is in fine form here.
But the spotlight here, really, is on Sarah Spencer. She started music lessons at age 6, was cast for a VH-1 reality program at 14 (which was ultimately cancelled). She met Morse at 16, brought together by her father, who had hoped Morse could offer advice on a career in music. Morse was likewise taken by the clarity and pureness of her voice, and agreed to work with her on a series of demos and writing sessions that would eventually result in Angelfire. Morse compares her voice and his first exposure to it as being like hearing Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Arms of an Angel’ for the first time, and I suppose I can see that. She’s got an amazing delivery, very crisp and clean, and this remains so through the full range of her voice.
...Angelfire’s production, handled by Morse himself, handles the balance between guitar and vocals nicely. Through layering and the judicious use of reverb, Morse and Spencer expand on the space created by Morse regulars Dave LaRue and Van Romaine on bass and drums. Aside from a few odd choices, such as the abrupt ending of ‘Everything To Live For,’ the airy production helps to create the soft atmosphere that the duo’s music suggests.
Angelfire is a soothing record, and an excellent companion for a quiet night alone. The album reveals satisfying depth upon repeat listens – in the beautifully balanced songwriting, the strong performances and the pleasant production. For Sarah Spencer, Angelfire is the promising debut of a talented young artist, and for Steve Morse, it is one more victory in a career built on personal and musical integrity.