California Screamin'

The Dixie Dregs

Zebra Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


There's something inherently dangerous about putting several musical virtuosos together. Sure, you're going to be in for some wonderful treats, but in the end, the individual performances tend to take precedence over the most important thing - the music.

The Dixie Dregs have been slugging it out on and off over the better part of 20 years, though they may be one of the best-kept secrets in the musical world. Before receiving their latest disc California Screamin' in the mail, I didn't own one of their albums, though I had at least heard of the band. Guitarist Steve Morse (who has recently been doing double-duty as a member of Deep Purple) and crew plow through some wonderful songs that cover a wide berth of genres. However, in the end, it seems like the spotlight fails to shine on the whole performance, per se.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For starters, the Dixie Dregs take on two of instrumental rock's most beautiful and challenging numbers - Frank Zappa's "Peaches En Regalia" and the Allman Brothers Band's "Jessica" - and plow through them with amazing agility. Zappa's son Dweezil joins in on his father's track, and it is a testament to father, son and the Dregs that his performance blends in so well that you can't tell when he's playing. I'll always be partial to the version on Hot Rats, but this particular rendition is a very close second.

"Jessica" suffers a little bit in that Morse doesn't have a second guitarist to fall back on to provide some more rhythm licks, but the version presented here is just as respectable and just as enjoyable. It also gives Morse a chance to add his own signature to the solos that Dickey Betts would have played in that spot.

As for the original music, California Screamin' runs the gamut from all-out exciting to, I'm sorry to say, boring. Tracks like "Wages Of Weirdness," "Aftershock" and the country hoedown-turned-mosh pit "The Bash" all make the listener sit up and wonder why they haven't been taking more note of this band.

However, the more that individual performers get highlighted in songs, the harder it is to keep an interest in some of the music in general. Tracks like "Night Meets Light," "Ionized" and "The Great Spectacular" all fall under this trap. However, special attention should be called to the track "Sleeveless In Seattle," which does inject new life into a part of the album that tends to drag. In a sense, by the time the group closes things out with their rendition of "Dixie," it almost comes as a relief.

The Dixie Dregs are an incredibly talented bunch of musicians who have rightfully earned their places as masters of their craft. And while there are many moments on California Screamin' that emphasize this, sometimes it just feels like too much of a good thing.

Rating: B-

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Zebra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.