Zebra Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/30/2004
[Editor's Note: Portions of this review originally appeared at houseofshred.com]
The Dixie Dregs are stalwarts of fusion, the aptly named but almost forgotten genre that has at times wallowed in mediocrity, and often suffered from simple lack of direction. Fusion has become a catchall for jazz-flavored rock of many styles that has attracted a laundry list of artists, from Journey to Jeff Beck. The Dregs, more than any other band, has declared their place at the top of the fusion heap, and has amassed a small but fervent legion of followers.
California Screamin' captures The Dixie Dregs doing what they do best, performing live, doing their unique mix of Southern-fried rock-jazz-funk. These tracks were culled from the best bits from 3 nights at the Roxy Theatre in L.A. in the summer of '99.
As usual, the center piece to this adrenalized tossed salad of styles is guitar virtuoso Steve Morse, who's fluid, evocative playing sets the stage for this ensemble of great musicians. Morse has achieved God-like status among many guitar aficionados and with good reason. There are few players, living or otherwise, who have developed such a mastery of the instrument. In addition to his work with DD, Morse has become the guitar-for-hire for resurging classic rock bands, and has helped breathe new life into Kansas back in the 80's and more recently, in the current lineup of Deep Purple.
Along with Morse are almost every DD member current and former, which makes this disc a reunion of sorts. Original Dregs bassist Andy West appears, alongside current bassman Dave LaRue. Two of the Dreg's three violinists, Allen Sloan and Jerry Goodman, participate. Virtuoso fiddler Mark O'Conner is sadly missing, but Sloan and Goodman are more than up to the task. Rounding out the band is original Dregs drummer Rod Morgenstein.
Longtime fans will eat this collection up as it covers virtually the entire career of the Dregs going as far back as the now out of print "The Great Spectacular" and includes other gems such as Frank Zappa's "Peaches en Regalia," with a guest appearance by Frank's son Dweezil on guitar, and a smokin' cover of The Allman Brothers' "Jessica." The recording is superb, with minimal crowd noise and an intimate feel to the mix, reflecting the small venue where the shows were recoded. Pulling out a few surprises, they show their Southern roots with high-octane versions of "Wabash Cannonball," "Rocky Top" and "Dixie." At times it starts to meander a bit, but all in all it's a solid set done in the virtuoso style Dregs fans have come to expect. They have an amazing knack for weaving their diverse influences together, and making it sound totally organic, not just a forced crossover, but a true synthesis of styles in which the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.
While not breaking any new ground, the Dregs deliver the goods that their fans have come to expect, solid musicianship and great songs done in their own unique style. This disc would be a great introduction to newcomers not familiar with the Dregs' impressive body of work.