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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Dixie Dregs

California Screamin'

Review by Larry Toering

If I were to be asked if I thought this were among the best Dixie Dregs to be released over the years, I would have to reach for my soapbox and say “no,” for several reasons. However, it also doesn't rank among their worst either, although distinguishing which is which would also be difficult. But the point is, they slipped this one out while on tour around the turn of the century.Looking back, it does still shine, even if pales in comparison to some of their releases, including other live ones, which all beat this in the sound department. Still, that might just be due to the adjustments of going through certain transformations at the time, and nothing more. However,  it can be easily noticed between this, and their previous live outing Bring 'Em Back Alive.

Here Steve Morse is teamed up with Dave LaRue on bass (who also provides the bass in the Steve Morse Band), along with the added effect of two fiddles in Jerry Goodman and Allen Sloan, Rod Morgenstein on drums and T Lavitz (who recently passed away), on keyboards to round out what could be described as the ultimate Dregs line-up. It's a fine performance by all, if a rather neglected release that really only suffers from a hasty production and being too short. It is otherwise a fantastic CD that does still live up to the usual Dregs industry standard, as they put it. Not to be negative or overly critical, but it's just possible for some bands to record albums they likely have no need to add to their already illustrious catalogs. Allthough this is up to their standard, I would not recommend it as the first live disc of theirs to go for, to make my point most clear, but had they added a second disc to lengthen it, I believe it would have given it another place in the catalog altogether and change that outlook.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Wages Of Weirdness

This is such a fabulous number that it easily melts the mind without hesitation, as it instantly proceeds to injure the ears with pure menacing delight. The usual tempo changes are featured, driven by a rhythm section to die for. It must be mentioned concerning that because a better rhythm section is rather impossible to find. The crowd eats it up here, although it sounds to be only about fifty people or so, seriously. But then this band are best witnessed in small halls and large bar venues.

Peaches En Regalia

This is not the type of thing you just run through like you've been doing it all your life, but Morse proves to be one who can pull it off. He has the band to do it, because the Dregs happen to be of just that Zappa quality and approach a lot of the time. If this is the best or even up there with their best versions I can't say, but when I heard it, there was a distinct difference between it and the previous Dregs version I listened to. So it's safe to assume it variates in performance, likely depending on who's in the line-up, of course. Wow.... this is just magnificent, and that is the best one word description I can conjure.

Freefall

Being the title of one of their early albums, this is a fairly mellow tune with the usual bouts of intensity. The violin gets a work out here, along with a killer Hammond organ from T Lavitz before it turns into a nice battle between the two. During the battle that organ is sometimes alternated with synthesizer, and then Morse steps in to take over the jam. The rest is history as it goes from mellow at the outset, to mesmerizing in the end.

Aftershock

This is one of the more straight jazzy numbers in the set, and a hot shot of sizzling material it is. It’s also a nice way to set up the next number, which really needs no introduction. I love the guitar bite here, as it threatens to take away from all of the hard core elements of jazz. Still, it doesn't manage to completely transform it, and keeps all due respect for its obvious intentions.

The Bash

Contending for one of the very best they have to offer, this is a very controlled version of  what to me is just about their finest number, (with the exception of the following tune). As much as I try, I simply cannot find a flaw in this, and just have to let it speak for itself as the masterstroke it is. This is simply an out of this world track, and a rendition that does all the justice required to earn its place on this release. The musicianship has to be heard to be believed here in all of its out of sight glory.

Night Meets Light

This is another one of their very best cuts, and again here it's met with the utmost effort to do it all the justice it deserves. Of course, they win again with a smashing version. Morse simply kills here, along with everyone who gets to showcase their crazy talents.

Refried Funky Chicken

Combining some different elements, such as a huge funk vibe, this has always been another one of their well received numbers. This is one cut that benefits from age and different musicians playing it, as it's one of the more modern sounds they got this tour. The keyboards dominate this one with Morse trying his best not to let them. The result is always the same, as they find their way back to the groove and let that be the track’s defining force.

Jessica

This is a killer version of the Allman Brothers classic, done with a slight air of shuffle to give it that Dregs touch. They pull it off in style and amazing delivery. You wouldn't think a track like this could benefit from such a modern slant without taking anything away from it. It gets plenty of modern flair added, especially from the excellent keyboard work, which brings both a flashiness and a bottom end groove that holds it together like concrete. How it can be so different yet sound so similar is beyond me. All I know is that this is just as good as the original (without copying) as it gets. The song remains intact, yet so much is added you might think of it as just a jam around the bones of “Jessica,” even though it's really not that either. This has to be the highlight of the disc for me, no question.

What If

This is by far the slowest track, but also one of the most interesting, as it follows closely along the lines of the studio version. Still the band shows this is a live performance. It's hard to imagine what it was like to be there. Particularly because they essentially come to a halt for this after major intensity.  If I’d been there, though, I would probably have been standing there in awe as they work this truly great number. This is simply marvelous!

Sleeveless In Seattle
This might be the token proverbial rocker of the disc, as it is one of the more energetic and creative cuts in the set. It has both dramatic flare and precision chemistry. The band shine like only this group can. But considering how it rocks, it also has a melancholy feel laced about it. And although I have always liked this track, I could take it at twice the distance. I always want it to keep playing, but it ends much too fast.
Ionized

More of that straight forward jazz approach is attempted here, but watch out for the fusion once again, as Larue kills on bass and Morse won't let him without getting interestingly involved enough to even add a rock stamp to it. The sheer quality of musicianship is something you witness very few times in your life, making this band one of the more vital in the history of rock. If that can't be detected by listening to this, then I have been living on another planet for nearly fifty years.

The Great Spectacular

This has always been another favorite of mine, and the difference in the guitar alone makes it stand out as such. The bass is another carrier of this jam without a doubt. Morse can do no wrong with his subdued jazzy approach and how it lights the entire way for all kinds of tasty interaction between the band. Although the band is clearly led by its main composer, the other participants don't go unnoticed for one split second of the arrangement. Both Morse and the band shine equally, if somehow separately

Dixie

The entire set is taken out in pure true to form fashion on this exceedingly fast number. Like a few of the others here, it's all over much too fast, as it barely has time to gel before it comes to end. But it's a nice little way to say “good evening” to a very blown away audience, even if the full Dregs experience here could easily benefit from a second disc.

 
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