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Dixie Dregs - Night Of The Living Dregs CD (album) cover

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DREGS

Dixie Dregs

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.74 | 61 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars The stereotypical caricature of a white Anglo Saxon male residing anywhere south of the Mason/Dixon line of demarcation in the United States is that of a crimson-necked, tobacco- chewing, Chevy truck-owning, gimme cap-wearing, boot-scooting, snaggle-toothed, Merle Haggard-loving Bubba who thinks Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" guitar orgy represents progressive rock at its finest. Most of the civilized world thinks we're all like that but I'll have you know it's not a fair assessment. I have it on good authority that at least 1% of us don't fit any of those close-minded descriptions and the very existence of the Florida-based band Dixie Dregs proves beyond any reasonable doubt that those of us of the more "cosmopolitan" persuasion are apt to get downright radical and adventurous with our music. So there! I'll admit that being a member of such a microscopic-sized minority tends to make one tight-lipped about sharing his listening preferences since rumors of ELP tee shirt-clad fellows being lynched in roadside pecan trees have yet to be dispelled. Better to spit and utter an occasional "yeehaw" than to be identified as a progger, in other words. Life is safer and more secure around these parts if we aural revolutionaries opt to err on the side of caution.

Having said all that silly gibberish I confess to being a blatant hypocrite because I've never heard a single note from this brave group of virtuosos until just a few weeks ago when I picked up this pre-owned LP on a whim. I certainly knew of them and that they weren't your average whisky-swillin' Tallahassee bar band but, for one strange reason or another, chose to callously ignore them for decades. My bad. If this album is representative of what they've been up to during their career then I've stupidly deprived myself of the kind of jazz rock/fusion magic that gets my adrenaline pumping every time I'm exposed to it. These guys are the real deal and they don't take a back seat to anyone in their esteemed genre. Their audacity to remain stubbornly true to themselves in defiance of the deeply-rooted regional tastes and preferences that surround them on every side alone is worthy of respect. But I suspect they don't want or need our pity because they do a remarkable job of cutting a fiery swath through the rural countryside that rivals that of Sherman's Union army as they marched ruthlessly toward Atlanta.

These boys grab you by the lapels from the get go with "Punk Sandwich," a boisterous, hard rockin' number that'd be right at home either at a prog convention or a NASCAR race in the Carolinas. It features a crisp, clean but very strong guitar beginning and a slew of stinging accents and kicks performed with astounding tightness. Solos from Steve Morse's guitar, Allen Sloan's violin and Mark Parrish's Hammond organ all sizzle and you're instantly made aware of why Mr. Morse perches permanently with the upper echelon of prog guitar gods. His regal reputation is not empty hype. When the tune ended with a big, fat synthesizer note I knew I was in for more treats to come. Rod Morgenstein's rumbling drums and percussion at the opening of "Country House Shuffle" is a nice surprise that leads directly to an intriguing, optimistic melody pattern that makes me envision the Mahavishnu Orchestra on mood-enhancing medication. The seamless cohesion of the arrangement is exceptional and Steve delivers a song-ending guitar ride that would make even the legendary Jeff Beck raise an eyebrow.

"The Riff Raff" makes it three aces in a row as this contemplative violin/classical guitar piece displays the vastness of this combo's range and acumen. It's a complex composition that doesn't take short cuts and, in the process, sounds like nothing else on the album. Makes it very hard to stick a convenient label on this band's work. I love lone piano intros and Parrish doesn't disappoint during his brief stint in the spotlight for the onset of "Long Slow Distance." While jotting down notes for this tune I tried to come up with another I could compare it to but I was stumped. These creative musicians carved out their own unique niche with songs like this. Steve's acoustic guitar lead proves that he's not just some crank-it-and-shred-like-a-jigsaw gunslinger and the whole group is constantly aware of the supreme importance of erecting structural melodies inside their art. The track slowly fades away with Morse and Parrish trading head-spinning licks as they disappear over the distant horizon. Delightful.

If not for the applause of the discriminating '78 Montreux Jazz Festival crowd it would be difficult (if not impossible) to discern that the rest of this album was taped live from the stage. Yep, they're that good. "Night of the Living Dregs" has an undeniable Return to Forever vibe running through it and that's okay except that Andy West's solo, despite being a decent enough bassist, makes it crystal clear that he's not in Stanley Clarke's league (few are) and it's a bit of a Dreg drag. Yet I must offer praise for the way the band deftly blends all the different instruments together without a causing a nasty pileup. The group- penned "The Bash" (a variation of the bluegrass staple "The Wabash Cannonball") is next and the audience eats it up like free ice cream. I've always been a sucker for guitarists that can play fast (even though being able to do so is no indication of great skill necessarily) because in my 30+ years of string strummin' I never came even close to being called "Sir Speedy." You either have it or you don't and Morse has it in spades as he demonstrates here. Sloan's violin valiantly tries to keep up with him but Steve blazes a trail constantly while summoning a variety of tones from his axe. You may deem this tune hokey as cornbread dressing but I think it's awesome fun.

"Leprechaun Promenade" is rather schizophrenic. It waffles between soothing, laid back contemporary jazz grooves and sudden onslaughts of sharp, dynamic, edgy riffs that keep you guessing from start to finish. It's a conglomeration of ideas that have no business hanging out with each other but somehow they dance in perfect harmony. Fascinating stuff. "Patchwork" is the closer and if there's such a thing as good 'ol boy southern prog rock this is its anthem. They miraculously manage to draw inspiration from their down home influences without patronizing or glorifying them and the song has so many cool nooks and crannies to gaze into as it flows by there's never a dull moment to be endured. These five men are a frickin' force of nature.

Since all but one of the tunes was written by Steve Morse it's apparent that this is his baby but I never got the impression that he considers himself to be the star of the show. This, in every aspect of the term, is a band effort. Specifically, they're individual masters of their respective instruments who know how to cooperate and present a united front. Needless to say, I'm blown away and now wish I'd seen the light about these Dixie renegades a lot earlier. "Night of the Living Dregs" gets my highest 4-star rating only because I don't know if this is their masterpiece or not but I intend to explore them further and it's not inconceivable that I may come back and add that fifth star in the future. This is exceptional fusion fare, folks.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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