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Dixie Dregs - King Biscuit Flower Hour [Aka: Greatest Hits Live / Aka: In the Front Row DVD-A] CD (album) cover


Dixie Dregs


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.74 | 13 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Back in the wide-open 70s there were always renegade rumors skittering hither and yon about some new guitar wiz who'd just popped up on the radar and most of these urban legends turned out to be grossly exaggerated affairs. But when it came to Steve Morse and his dangerous Dixie Dregs outfit the buzz was warranted. Yet being associated with the southern regions of the states and the dubious moniker "Dixie" in particular didn't exactly conjure up images of the jazz/rock fusion giants like John McLaughlin and Al DiMeola who'd blazed a scorching trail through popular music so the uninitiated were inclined to approach their work with some trepidation. However, within just a few seconds of hearing Steve and his cohorts ply their wares one had to agree that this was something worth paying attention to. By the time their third album, the outstanding "Night of the Living Dregs," came out all doubt about their abilities had been effectively squashed flat as a stink bug. They were the real deal.

Sometime in 1979 they played a set for the widely syndicated King Biscuit Flower Hour radio program, thus spreading their unique sound into unsuspecting ears the world over and enhancing their reputation. As were many of those tapings, it remained confined to bootleg status for a long time until it was packaged properly and released on CD in 1997. It's a good thing, too, because the concert captures their unbridled spirit quite well. The recording is very intimate and close up, eschewing studio tricks and embellishments that would often make less-talented bands appear to be better than they actually were. This is more like sitting in a tiny bar, being dazzled by the eclectic combo set up on the little stage in the corner.

After a brief introduction, some reassuring feedback leads to "Freefall," an incredibly tight, progressive jazz/rock fusion tune that will pin your ears back against your noggin. You are immediately struck by the level of individual virtuosity this ensemble possesses in spades. Rod Morgenstein's frantic drums start "Country House Shuffle," an engaging song owning a playful melody that rolls around in your head like a mental whirlwind. The playing is so tasteful it makes you drool. For "Moe Down" Rod's inventive drumming provides a great change of pace moment early on in the show. The group incorporates a combination of bluegrass and Irish folk influences into the number with highly satisfying results. There's a mirthful Úlan surrounding this tune that's irresistible. "Ice Cakes" follows and it's one of those instrumentals that's impossible to label, it's that eccentric. Morse's style has so many affectations in it, garnered from his noble heroes and mentors, that it's an adventure just listening to him perform. It's obvious that they were admirers of the stupendous Mahavishnu Orchestra but they weren't a copycat band at all. They had their own way of doing things. "Travel Tunes" is next, a rocker with entertaining quirks that give it a spunky character. Steve shreds like an electric sander on a quilt.

They then play a rousing version of "Night of the Living Dregs." It's one of their signature numbers and they tear it up with glee. Andy West's bass solo is exceptional and I really get a kick out of how Morse and electric violinist Allen Sloan work in tandem with each other on the central melody line. "Night Meets Light" is so good it's not to be missed. This song shows that they had a softer, more delicate side but don't worry, there's nothing pretentious about it. You can tell there's a genuine cooperative imagination present amongst the members. Sloan's violin and T. Lavitz's synthesizer conjure up a very serene atmosphere during the first half, while the latter section achieves true magnificence as the instruments dance around each other in an intricate aural choreography. "Punk Sandwich" marks a return to their more rowdy, hard-driving instincts. Everyone gets to get their ya-yas out on this one but I'm most intrigued by the fact that they don't have to rely on ear-splitting volume to get the job done. "Cruise Control" is another highlight. It's hot rock & roll poured over a funky bass line that'll twist your curlies. As a unit they zip right along at light speed but they fudge nary a beat as they take turns glamming the folks in attendance and out in Radioland. You gotta admit that there's some pretty damn astonishing stuff going on between these guys. They end with "Take It Off the Top," a killer encore tune that touches every conceivable base.

In essence, if you're a fan of impossible-to-duplicate jazz/rock fusion and also enjoy hearing it played expertly in a live setting then this is your ticket to Nirvana. These boys took a back seat to no one and they consistently fed off of each others' enthusiasm as they pushed the limits of what they could accomplish every time they alit on the stage. At least that's what it sounds like to me as evidenced by this scintillating performance caught for posterity. 4.3 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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